gallery Dear Adoption, Where to Start?


Dear Adoption, Where to Start?

Where to start? Should I be angry? I am angry, but is that how I want to start?  

Should I be grateful? It’d be safe and I am grateful, but is that the thread I want to follow?  

It’s funny. Gratitude is an accepted response for adoptees, but anger is not. Are we grateful for the rain? Sure, but no one will look at you askance if you say you wish it wasn’t raining. Are we grateful for the sun? Of course, but complaining that it is too damn hot doesn’t get you into trouble. Can’t I be both grateful and angry?

Adoption, you introduced choice into my life. You brought choice that changed the course of my life. It involved multiple people; my parents, my biological parents, Catholic Social Services, the government, but it didn’t involve me. At least not in the choosing part.  

I know that nobody gets to choose their parents. The difference is that in most cases parents don’t get to choose their children either.  

That’s not the case with you. With you, Adoption, there is some selection. My parents talk of seeing me in my crib with my butt in the air (thanks Adoption for making my butt such a huge part of my life). What if I hadn’t had this butt? What if I’d been lying on my back like modern best practices tell us to do? Would that have changed things? Perhaps not. But what if my parents weren’t into butts? (I know that sounds gross, but stay with me Adoption.) The fact remains that my butt presented them with a choice. They could’ve just as easily walked away. I know they don’t see it that way, but I do.

Interestingly enough, my butt also played a role in my birth. I was a breach birth, not feet first, mind you, but . . . you guessed it, butt first. However, in that case my butt was not the palantir that enthralled Pippin. It lacked the mystical powers of attraction that later drew my parents to it irresistibly. Perhaps, like Gandalf, the doctor covered it quickly with her robe shielding my biological mother from its allure.

But again, a choice was made. My mother chose to give me up. In fact, when I later met her, I learned she had even more choice than that. In looking at the prospective adoptive parents, she chose my parents because, in part, my father had a degree in African linguistics and I was part black.

Choices, choices everywhere, but not a one for me.  

But, you would argue, I couldn’t make a choice. I was an infant. A child. A babe in arms. You’re right, Adoption. Of course you are. But somehow that’s not enough. I know that your preschool teacher told you again and again, “You get what you get, and you don’t fuss a bit”, but . . .  well fuck that.

Adoption, what frustrates me now is just that point. I want to fuss. I don’t like what you have given me. I’m not a two-year-old child who wants his crusts cut. I understand sucking it up. I’m a fricking Hoover. I’ve been hoovering since I was plugged in. I know raging won’t change the facts, but it’ll make me feel better if you hear what I have to say.

Here’s what I have to say. I don’t like you Adoption. I understand you’re not evil and that you do good in the world. But the same could be said about the New York Yankees or the New England Patriots. You all make a lot of people happy, but you’re not for me.

I’m not fighting against you. It’s not my life’s work to destroy you. But I’m not calling my senator to support you. I’m not attending any marches to make sure your funding doesn’t get cut.

If I’m fighting for anything, it’s for the right to say what I feel. It’s for the right to say, “Yeah, maybe things would’ve been crappy if I hadn’t been adopted, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the fact that I was.”  

It’s to acknowledge that I live with you every single day of my life.  

You are an invisible backpack. Your weight is so clear to me, but to others you are unnoticed. My secret burden that is difficult for others to comprehend.  

You’ll laugh, but you are my trauma. You are my abuse. You are my shame. I know that you will argue, “But those are bad things from bad intentions. I am good. I am from good intentions. Just like a degree from Harvard, I can only be viewed in one way.”

Adoption, my oldest friend, your intentions matter, but so do the results.  

This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. I know you are just repeating the lyrics of a rap song. You’d never use the n-word if it wasn’t essential to the rhyming scheme. I’m not saying you’re a racist.  

But when you use that word, it hurts.  

When you took me away from my biology, it hurt. I know that is hard for you to hear, but please let me say it.

So where does this leave us, Adoption? Can our relationship be saved? I don’t think we have a choice. Do you? We’re in this thing for the long haul. Conjoined twins with no surgeon in sight.

Let’s meet each other halfway. I’ll agree that your intentions are good. I’ll accept that you are an imperfect solution to a perfect problem. I’ll thank you for what you have given me.

Here’s what I’d like from you… Acknowledge that, regardless of intentions, my feelings of harm and hurt are real. Help me recover from this pain you’ve caused by validating my memories and honoring my present. Know that no matter how much you have given me, what you took from me is irreplaceable.  

Know this: I’m hurt and it’s not my job to make you feel better about that.  

I’ll survive. I’ll thrive. I’ll do my work. You do yours.

Justin was adopted from Catholic Social Services at two months and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his family.


  1. Amazing writing. Thank you validating my horrible decision and the pain adoption causes for each of us… not just adoptee and birth mother.. but the knowledge of knowing and understanding after many years adopters (keepers) are hurting as well.. remember adoptees are their last choice. I wish there were someway I could protect my birth twins from ever knowing this.


  2. Adoption? Where to start? I’m an adoptee.

    In my view, the commentary treats adoption as though it’s an individual person who can be confronted. As though adoption is a human who is now being judged by an adoptee. Frankly, it seems Justin turned Adoption into an anthropomorphized straw man. Some kind of invisible parent he wants to chastise.

    However, as I read Justin’s complaint, it seemed to me that each of his concerns made him seem more and more like millions of kids raised by their biological parents. Not different in any way that matters. Everyone has their issues. The commentary gave me the feeling he was unburdening himself by writing about his disappointments, though it’s not clear what those disappointments were or how those complaints might have differed from the complaints of a non-adoptee.

    He doesn’t seem to reveal any animosities toward either his biological parents or his adoptive parents. However, he told readers almost nothing about those four people, therefore we have no way to know. Maybe he is angry with all of them? He met his birth mother. That much we learned. The experience must have been enlightening. It must have affected him somehow. But he doesn’t share that important information.

    What about his birth father? Not much there. His adoptive parents? Nothing that mattered, though he seems put off by some of their memories about how he ended up with them. The family story he tells is like many family tales that seem to embarrass or annoy the children. Moreover, he made it sound as though choosing a baby to adopt was like going to an animal shelter to find a dog. Doesn’t seem likely.

    I was adopted in the early 1950s, during the peak years of baby availability. In NY City. Nevertheless, my adoptive parents were not asked to choose a baby from a large room jammed with bassinets. After a year of waiting, they got a phone call from the agency on a Friday afternoon. They were told they could pick me up on Monday. They spent the weekend preparing the spare bedroom.

    Justin writes: “Here’s what I’d like from you… Acknowledge that, regardless of intentions, my feelings of harm and hurt are real. Help me recover from this pain you’ve caused by validating my memories and honoring my present. Know that no matter how much you have given me, what you took from me is irreplaceable.

    Know this: I’m hurt and it’s not my job to make you feel better about that.

    I’ll survive. I’ll thrive. I’ll do my work. You do yours.”

    Again, Justin turns Adoption into a living person with motives, responsibilities and flaws. But it isn’t that at all. Seems to me he’s bundling the four people who are his parents into a single body, calling them Adoption, and letting them know he feels cheated out of something.

    As an adoptee, feeling cheated is easy to understand. I feel cheated. My birth mother died before I found her. However, I learned a lot about her and I know her early death deprived me forever of the opportunity to fill some of the void that is created when a mother parts with an infant. In my case, an infant one week old.

    But the practice of adoption isn’t to blame. If there’s something to blame, it’s the morality of a society that once rebuked and punished unmarried, white, middle-class women who became pregnant. The rebuke turned these women into outcasts. For better or worse, right or wrong, as painful as it might have been, at the time they were pregnant, they believed it was best to relinquish their babies. They didn’t know what was ahead.


    • [Again, Justin turns Adoption into a living person with motives, responsibilities and flaws. But it isn’t that at all]

      Without a motive, adoption ceases to exist. Without the motive *to* be a parent, you don’t get a child. So of course Justin is personifying adoption.


    • You’ve clearly never read any other posts on this blog. Try it, you’ll see they are all the same in that the writers talk to adoption as if it were a person. That is, in fact, the point of the blog.


  3. Wow!!! Intense!!! We adopted a child from birth. He definitely has some adoption issues that are very apparent such as not wanting us to Kiss him goodnight, or say he loves us. He has visited with his birth Mom, biological grandma, and half brother a few times. It’s hard for his birth mother to visit. She is sad. We have always been very encouraging and comforting to her and family. We want to offer as much time together as possible for everyone involved.
    Adoption brings great joy to the adoptive family and a tremendous amount of heart ache to the biological family…. and it seems to the adopted child. Give any helpful advice please. Our son is 9 and is also biracial living in a white family.


    • Read adoptee blogs. Acknowledge his pain. Give him space to grieve. Start conversations about his pain & grief, don’t expect him to bring it up. Adoptees know exactly how unwilling adoptive parents are to have this discussion – they can tell from the most subtle cues that this is a topic their adoptive parents want them to avoid. Make sure he has black & biracial people in his life he can go to with the issues he will have. As a white parent you just don’t have the lived experience to help with some of the things he’s going to encounter.

      If you can find a therapist who is also an adoptee, that might be helpful for him as well. And most of all, be open to allowing all his feelings, including anger, even if it hurts your feelings. You’re the adult, you made this choice, it’s your job to help him through, not expect him to hide his feelings to protect you.

      It’s great your asking, I wish more would. Just follow through too.


  4. Fantastically written. I am incredibly grateful for the parents I was placed with, but still, dearly wish my adoption had never needed to happen.


  5. So much goodness in this post. Not even sure where to start. This right here “Choices, choices everywhere, but not a one for me.” None for me either Justin and that definitely makes me angry AF.


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