gallery Dear Adoption, You Are Cigarette Smoke


Dear Adoption, You Are Cigarette Smoke

Dear Adoption, you are like a cigarette I had no choice but to inhale. Your smoke is infused inside of me—not just in my lungs but also in my heart, my memories, my wounds, and my words. Exhale, and out you flow, affecting others around me, especially those closest to me. As a mother, you sometimes make raising my children harder than I think it’s supposed to be.

For starters, I’ve doubted my worth as a human—let alone as a mother. I didn’t believe I was enough. I felt broken and torn. Stuck, as if forever a child myself. Your lies wafted and coiled inside my lungs, preying on my every breath. Not motherhood material. Run from motherhood—your first mother did. I waited until it was almost too late, until my ovaries’ eleventh hour, to believe myself worthy of carrying my children to term. Even then, pregnancy was a passive approach. I dared not officially “try” to become a parent. Instead I just waited for it to magically happen. You gave me that belief in magic, of course, with my “fairy-tale” adoption story. But you also left a bad taste in my mouth for desperation. I vowed never to need motherhood so badly I became blind to the searing pain of others.

You’ve poached money from my children. Money that could have gone toward their education fund instead went to a private investigator, genealogy tests, reunion databases, birth record administration fees—simply to understand my roots, my complete family history, and medical information that non-adoptees can take for granted. All the same, it’s money well spent. Unlike me, my children will grow up feeling grounded because my complete story, which is a part of their story, will be passed down.

Your warning labels help me keep my children safe. Make no mistake. Unregulated, you didn’t print any labels. Those of age weren’t even aware warnings could be useful. But I discerned them anyway, ever since my first pre-verbal trauma when you snuffed out my mother’s smell, voice, nourishment, and love and left me to survive on my own. No matter how quickly you delivered me to another loving family, I became keenly aware of what an alarming, threatening world this is. You taught me to keep my eyes open, always. Danger can lurk anywhere, and I’d sure better see it coming because nobody else will extinguish it but me. Sleep only a little. Blink just a little. I’ve spent my life on constant guard, and it has shaped me into one high-alert mama. I’ve learned to develop and rehearse strategies for countless emergency scenarios. I’ve pre-planned all the ways I’ll rush to the rescue of my children, just like I’d always yearned for my first mother to rescue me.

And while you keep my kids protected, there is no risk-free exposure to secondhand smoke. When I cough up anxiety, my children breathe in your toxic effects. You’ve made me a hot mama. I can become a fire hazard when I’m feeling especially used, overwhelmed, manipulated, misunderstood.

You have rolled me into a tight box of perfectionism. My first attachment left, so I learned to be good-better-best in order to be kept around—better yet, adored. Like most addictions, it serves me … a little. Though it’s never enough, before long leaving me wheezing for another hit, masking my true hankering for full acceptance of my complete and messy self.

Perfectionism is an illusion—a burden I’m constantly working to shed. But it’s also a gift—because it won’t let me settle for the role of damaged or damaging mother. When you light up your sideways pain in front of my children, I seek fresh air for help: walks, time with animals, the circle of those I’ve learned to truly trust, therapy, God. Without that burn to be perfect, maybe I could let it go. But I care too deeply for that, innately knowing the importance of solid, strong, loving, constant first attachments. Perhaps without the lifetime of missing it, I wouldn’t feel so strongly in my blood that that is what my children need. And it is exactly what I am prepared to give, no matter how short of breath I am through the fight.

You will always be infused in me. But I will not let you smolder into a cancer. I will not linger in your fog. What you never wanted to recognize, Adoption, is that I am the product of not one, but two, strong families. You endangered my life. But I survived. You tried to shrivel my heart. But it’s still beating. More importantly, it’s still soft. These things, and more, are where my strength originates. These are the gifts I offer to my children.

Yes, I’m a mother smoking Adoption. But the light I hold inside shines brighter than yours. This mother’s light cannot be ground out.

Sara Easterly is mom to two tenacious daughters and daughter of two amazing moms—both her adoptive mom and her birth mother. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Searching for Mom. Sara enjoys supporting other mothers in their journeys and has a passion for helping others understand the often-misunderstood hearts of adopted children. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


  1. As the mother of an adopted daughter age 18 this was very powerful. Thank you for your perspective. People always tell me how lucky she is to have me, but inside I know lucky would be having been born to a capable mom who could have raised her with love and strength.


  2. “You’ve poached money from my children. Money that could have gone toward their education fund instead went to a private investigator, genealogy tests, reunion databases, birth record administration fees—simply to understand my roots, my complete family history, and medical information that non-adoptees can take for granted.” Thank you for pointing this out; actually I’m surprised more people don’t mention it.

    For it is not just money; even more valuable is time. For those not affected by adoption, time and energy can be focused on issues not related to adoption, perhaps a pursuit that makes the world a better place, that improves our relationships with our spouse, children and extended family. Instead, a huge chunk of one’s life can be consumed by finding lost family. Much energy needs to be extended in trying to understand the trauma, and how our very souls have been deeply affected. Do friends and family usually acknowledge this? Usually not. One’s family itself may, consciously or unconsciously, need to understand and heal. Many of us affected by adoption may spend thousands of dollars in therapy, while therapists ignore the glaring fact that adoption greatly impacted our life paths. So, yes, Sara, adoption steals from us as individuals and as family.

    DEAR ADOPTION: Significant life paths are certainly altered for adoption survivors.


  3. Wow- yes. And I would add that like cigarette smoking, adoption is not looking like people will ever quit. I agree with you as an adoptee. Im not sure how my four kids will be raised but they wont be adopted at least. They have paid so much as well in my time and money and toxic fumes that I didn’t realize were toxic right away. Its hard to raise kids not knowing where you come from. It trickles down to the next generations for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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