The Anonymous Adoptee


Has anyone noticed the increasing number of adoption and foster care commercials on TV (adoption commercials in particular)? As someone who is old enough to remember them as a rarity at, like, 2 am on a news channel if you kept the TV on for background noise, it's harder to ignore when the appearance of one occurs at the start of every local news commercial break.

I'll be honest, as a child seeing them, I always kind of found them unsettling. I wasn't sure why, but I'd watch them and laugh at how much of a caricature it was of my life. What white people think adoption is, The kids, ugh, the kids on these commercials too that feel obligated to lie to please the people who were so gracious enough to open their home to you like the Little Orphan Annie. *insert eye-roll here*

I saw one last night, not too long after the Nuggets game, and when I was uploading an article to Medium, I added “#adoption,” and there were 137 people who followed that tag. I also added “#adoptee.” wanna know how many people follow that tag? Seven. That tells me 130 people are looking to adopt a child or are already adoptive parents. Seven adoptees, the people who are the ones being given to another family, are being vastly underrepresented. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of State, there were approximately 4,059 international adoptions by U.S. citizens in 2019. It's not clear how many adoptees are currently living in the United States overall. Still, according to Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, an estimated 1.5 million adopted children live in the United States; how is it that on a platform that boasts 60 million monthly active readers, only 7 follow the hashtag “adoption?”

It clicked for me why I found the commercials so unsettling. The overly optimistic commercials fail to convey the difficulty of adopting a child, especially one that is in the foster care system and is older or is of a different race than the adoptive parents. What's funny is even as I write this, AI has suggested my following sentence be:Adoption agencies often provide resources to help families overcome these barriers,” when in fact, they kind of don't. They only ever end up benefiting the parents. Adoption records are beginning to open up to those who even have such records. However, “non-identifying” information is still the “go-to” for most states, including the state I was born in (Missouri) and the state I live in (Ohio).

The problem is that these agencies can offer all the help they want; it won't matter. It won't matter until we change the stigma around adoption. Adoptees need a safe place to speak about the pain of their adoption loss and grief without feeling guilty or shameful for feeling the way they do. We won't open up about our experiences because we don't want to make our adoptive parents feel bad when we ask questions. We don't want them to feel like they're being replaced. Frequently, even wanting to know where we come from makes us feel guilty because we shouldn't want to know. After all, they aren't the ones who raised us. The entire existence of an adoptee is a contradiction. Contradictions between feelings, belonging, and identity are everyday struggles.

These commercials are unsettling because they do not accurately portray the pain that all parties feel during the adoption process. Ann Fessler addresses this directly in her book, “The Girls Who Went Away,” when she says, quote: “Adoption is, by its very nature, a painful process, one that brings into sharp relief the loss felt by all parties involved: the adoptive parents who long for a child; the birth mother who may never forget the child she gave away; and the adoptee who, even in the most secure and loving home, feels the sting of being separated from their biological roots.” Fessler makes a compelling point here, prompting us to think about the adoptive parent's loss in all of this, seeing as they will never look into their child's face and see themselves reflected in them. Some adoptive mothers will never know what it feels like to carry a baby in their stomachs, to feel the baby kick and move and squirm, or experience food cravings or hormones, they'll never know the pain of birth, nor will they have any advice to offer when their adopted children consider becoming parents and having children of their own.

This kind of loss is devastating for all parties. The overly optimistic and cheerful tone represented in pro-adoption commercials frustrates me because it just doesn't accurately reflect the reality of being an adoptee. If it did, outsiders wouldn't feel comfortable saying “be grateful” when a disagreement occurs between parent and child. People wouldn't say to you as an adoptee, “Oh, I'm so sorry,” when you tell them you're adopted, and “Oh, how wonderful of you” when your adoptive mom tells them.

Look, I'm not claiming that this is some easy thing to navigate, but an honest conversation needs to be had here because judging by the quantity of these commercials, the fact that they're government funded, and aired on prime-time television, I'd wager all of the GOP's abortion bans are backfiring, because if this doesn't scream “propaganda,” I'm not sure what does.

I don't know what the path forward is. Banning abortion isn't the solution; if anything, that would exacerbate the issue, and using adoption as an alternative to abortion also isn't the move; I don't know that I believe adoption is a viable solution anymore because I'm not sure there is a way to mitigate the potential damage that adoption can have. Whatever route is taken, we need to put the needs of children first. We can all agree that a lot of time and energy has been put into helping both sets of parents cope with their grief and loss while the child's mental health and development essentially went ignored. This needs to change before we start telling prospective parents how great it is to be an adoptive parent and what it means to parent a child dealing with adoption loss and grief.