This month we have been focusing on “the wait” in the adoption journey from all different sides of the adoption triad. Last week we shared an adoption story with you from the perspective of an adoptive family. They wrote about the long journey that led them to their baby girl. Earlier this week CAC Adoption Advocate & Birth Mother, Lori, shared about the open adoption she has with her son and the waiting that was involved as her relationship with him bloomed (and continues to grow). And today, we are honored to share an adoptee’s perspective on the journey to discovering her identity as a child of God. God doesn’t waste any of “the wait.” This story is another testament to that profound truth.
As an adoptee, adoption language has shaped my entire life. Being adopted made me feel set apart, like I did not belong anywhere. The mother that birthed me did not have a place for me, but the family that adopted me never really fit. I grew up in a state of limbo.
The family that raised me, I consider my own. I have lived with them and loved them every day of my life except for the first few days. But there was always something missing. And it was always pointed out by everyone around me every chance they got. My personality, my features, my attitude were all different. My father and I might share the fact that we both have dark hair, but our skin didn’t quite match. My nose has a droop, while my mother has a ski slope. I have big bones and a normal metabolism, while she has a hyper-thyroid and is kind of petite. My brother, also adopted, had squinty eyes while mine were quite large and round. I have a naturally sarcastic demeanor, while my family is more literal. My words and attitude often were misinterpreted as rude or bad.
My adoption was considered “semi-open,” which meant all contact between my birth mother and adoptive family was through the adoption agency. Everything was pre-screened with the intent that my birth mother would not be able to find me, nor I her. Therefore, I had no information as to my medical history or heritage. So where exactly did all of these things that were ever so slightly off from my family come from? This question lived in the back of my mind for my entire childhood. It colored my worldview.
I was told I was special. That I was so loved by my birthmother that she selflessly gave me to my adoptive parents. She knew they could provide a better life for me. This was God’s plan for my life. My parents did their very best to answer any questions I had and were very honest about the things they did not know. My birthmom sent my mom letters about changes in her life with pictures of her, her husband and their two children. I desperately tried to find my own features in their faces. But my brain never learned to see those things. I didn’t grow up hearing that I had my grandmother’s eyes or my uncle’s ears. It is extremely difficult to look in the mirror and find what parts of yourself match other people.
I was alone. I never felt like I belonged. But this reality was not realized until I was older. I often thought that every child must feel this way. After all, God created us to all be unique, and we were supposed to celebrate those differences. I was proud to be adopted. It made me unique. People asked all kinds of questions. I felt like they really cared and wanted to get to know me. In reality, they were super rude and intrusive. Their questions held all kinds of stigmas about my life, my conception and the plans God had for my future.
The adoption language my parents used to describe my story was all textbook. I wasn’t “given up” or “given away”, I was placed. I wasn’t unwanted, just unplanned. But I wasn’t unplanned by God because His plan was my adoption. Since this language was used in my life since birth, I absorbed it into my identity. I was special and chosen by God and by my parents. They worked very hard and spent a good deal of money to become my parents. How strange to know the monetary value of your life?
We all know the cost of adoption changes depending on the agency, the lawyers and the state we live in. But we also know, as an American society, that money shows the worth of something. The higher the price, the more value an item has. My expensive price tag affirmed that my life was more special than others. But as a child, I also internalized that I was not actually worth this much, since it was made clear that this price was a sacrifice for my parents. Not only did they sacrifice for my birth, but for my entire life. Our beautiful home, having multiple cars, not to mention the private school. The cost for my existence set my parents as heroes, sacrificing not only in the way all parents do but a step beyond because I was adopted.
Did my parents tell me all these things so I would worship them or feel indebted to them? Certainly not. They wanted to prove to me how much they loved and cared for me. But I connected dots and inferred things from all the sources feeding into my life, which led me to the conclusion of guilt. It was my fault that I was so expensive. It was my fault that I went to private school. It was my fault I didn’t look, or act like them. It was all my fault and because of that I was a problem. So, I kept my head down and obeyed as much as my self-control would let me.
There is a pressure placed on adoptees by Christian communities in the form of gratefulness. You can’t complain about your parents, family or life because “at least you weren’t aborted”. I’ve heard that phrase time and time again. The idea that I owed my life to anyone and everyone because my birth mother made the brave choice to not have an abortion is heartbreaking. I am beyond grateful for her decision but I, as a person, did not cause any problems at my conception. I do not need to carry the decisions another person made for my life, whether good or bad.
However, this idea of indebtedness took me further into the idea that I was less important. So, when I started being molested, I did not speak up. I was only 10, so I did not really understand what was going on. As I got older, I knew something wasn’t right, but I was already trapped. I already believed the lie that my life served a purpose for other people. I already believed that it was God’s plan to put me in this specific family. I already believed that my differences caused problems for my family. I already believed that my life was owed to another. So, it was easy to believe that I was making these choices, that I didn’t know what was right for my own life and that I didn’t have a voice or influence to change my circumstances.
If God’s perfect plan was for me to be in this family, and if God is omniscient and omnipresent, then God must have planned for my abuse, right? This is why adoption language is so important. Language imparts messages and as children we absorb those messages into our core beliefs about ourselves. As Christians, we take comfort in the fact that God has plans for our life and that He is in control. What we fail to think about and explain to our children is defining what is from God and what is from our fallen world.
Did God plan from me to be adopted? Is God’s perfect plan for a teenage girl to get pregnant, be shamed and hidden away in a maternity home and then be persuaded into giving her child to people she has never met? Possibly. I think my birthmother made choices that led to my conception. I think the people around her made choices that led to my adoption. I’m not sure if they listened and obeyed God in their decisions. I know my parents could not get pregnant and were exploring other ways to become parents. I know they felt God would close any doors necessary to lead them down His path, which led to them adopting.
I think another key aspect of adoption that we leave out as Christians, is free will. God lets us choose. Sometimes our choices affect other people. I did not choose adoption for myself. I did not choose my parents. I did not choose to be abused. Other people made those choices for me. The choice, in adoption, I made for myself was to seek reunification with my birthmother.
I did not know her story until I was 22. I had just placed my son and finally understood all of the emotions she must have felt when placing me. I felt I owed her a relationship. Not in a guilt-ridden way, but because I got to choose an open adoption. I can watch my son grow up. She did not have that option thus we did not have a relationship. I didn’t get to ask her all the questions. She didn’t get to tell me why she chose adoption. It is a privilege to know her story and be able to ask her all the things I had been wondering. I didn’t want to deny myself that opportunity, but I also didn’t want to deny her the opportunity to know me. To finally have me in her life.
The greatest part about my journey as an adoptee are the traces of God’s redemption throughout my life. God gave me parents: one set at birth and another to raise me. God gave me multiple families: my birth family, my adoptive family, my marriage and children, and my birth son’s family. But the biggest and most important thing God gave me was the choice of forgiveness.
I didn’t realize I needed to forgive my birth family, my adoptive family, my abuser, and myself until recently. The past few years, God has called me explore my trauma and choose forgiveness. I forgave my birth family for their shame and secrecy. I forgave my birth parents for not being ready. I forgave my adoptive family for not understanding me and how to fully embrace my differences. I forgave my parents for not knowing I was being molested. I forgave my abuser for his horrific choices. And I forgave myself for needing to choose adoption for my birth son and for the lies I believed about my identity.
God has so lovingly and graciously replaced those lies with His truths. My identity is firmly in the Lord who saved me. My identity is not of this world. My identity does not come from my own misconceptions or how others judge me. I am loved. I am wanted. I have value. He has good plans for me. I am not alone. I am His and He is mine.
We are all adopted into His family. We are His children. That is where we all find our identity. So, as we speak about adoption and use adoption language, regardless of our place in the triad, we should all speak the way our Father speaks to us: with love, hope, peace, grace and understanding. We won’t be perfect, but we are all forgiven and redeemed. All of our journeys into adoption started with loss and grief but our true Father has so much better in store for us. Whether or not my adoption was His plan, I know, He adopted me to live with Him forever in eternity and that is the greatest plan of all.