Thursday, March 18, 2010

Words Can Hurt

I read on a blog today about someone who just sent in their paperwork for adoption. They’re taking classes related to adoption, and one of the topics discussed was how your answers to questions sound to the child. For example, why did you adopt? If your answer is all about infertility, then the child might think they were your second choice, so you have to be careful about how you frame your response.

It got me thinking. Not from the potential mother’s standpoint, but from the adopted child. I think Hubs and I are a long way from deciding to adopt – I feel like we have a long path ahead of us before we make that choice. But all this talk of adopting from blogs I read makes me think about my own history.

I was adopted when I was four years old. My birth parents weren’t young – they were poor, homeless, and addicts. Well-meaning, just not really prepared to be parents. (As an example, I spoke with my birth mother a few years ago for the first time since I was four, and she wanted to make sure that I knew that she didn’t have any alcohol while she was pregnant. Then she said, “I might have smoked a little weed, but I didn’t drink!” OK, birth mother – so much better! Really???) She tried to keep me, and she and my birth father both tried to raise me when I was little, but we were homeless on the streets of L.A., more specifically Venice Beach. When I was about 1-2 years old, I started wandering off at night by myself, and people would pick me up and take me to the police. This was the beginning of my foster home life. I’ve been told I was in 18 different foster homes before I was adopted. Social services kept trying to convince my birth mom to put me up for adoption, but she didn’t want to give me up, but she couldn’t take care of me either. After a couple of years, she finally agreed to put me up for adoption, but by then, I had been in the foster system so long, was considered old in the adoption world, and had developed enough health and behavioral issues (malnourished, teeth rotting out, acting out) that nobody was interested in adopting me.

Meanwhile, my adoptive mom and dad (hereafter referred to as just Mom and Dad – after all, they are the ones who raised me – they’re the only people in my life deserving of those titles) determined that she couldn’t get pregnant (Dad already had a kid from a previous marriage) so they looked into adoption agencies, but they were told that Mom was too old to adopt a baby. She was 32 or 33. (Thank goodness times have changed – that was in the late 70’s – I’m 34 now…) So they were about to give up, when they met someone who knew the social worker on my case. Long story short, I came to live with my parents right after my fourth birthday.

My mom should not have been a mother. I feel so much guilt when I say that, but I believe it, and I’ve always believed it – about her. I sometimes have a hard time reconciling that to what I believe about myself and my own infertility, but I believe she should not have adopted me, especially considering I had problems and was very difficult, I’m sure. She didn’t know how to be a mother, and I think she thought that she should be a mother, but didn’t really want to be one. In her defense, I think she tried to an extent, or at least as much as she could, but she failed miserably – she will even admit that a little now. I won’t go into it all right now, but I want to talk about the words that came out of her mouth related to my adoption. Obviously as I was adopted when I was four, there wasn’t a time when we had the big reveal to tell me I was adopted – it was something that was always discussed, and I think that the first couple years that I lived with my parents was very difficult, as I had a hard time adjusting. Things settled down when I was about six, and both my mom and I remember the time from when I was six to ten as good years. Then it got worse.

Kids all over the world start to rebel in their pre-teen and teenage years, and I know I was not a huge joy to be around during that time. But she didn’t help. I remember during arguments she would tell me all the time, “I wish you would go back to where you came from,” and “I wish I never had you.” These are bad, I know, but I also remember how painful the stories were to hear about how she couldn’t get pregnant, and she had to resort to adoption. About how once she decided to adopt that she really wanted a baby, that maybe if she had adopted a baby instead of a four-year old child, it would have been easier. And that I was too old to be adopted, and she was too old to adopt, so we were meant to be together – she thought that was the really cute part of the story – she told that line to everyone. All I knew is it hurt that nobody wanted me, and she didn’t really want me either…

I know this story is extreme, and all you adoptive moms out there aren’t like my mom, and will be very careful with your words. But please try to look at it from your child’s perspective. Try to understand the desire to be wanted. No matter what, you can’t take away the pain of knowing their birth parents didn’t want them, but you can try to let them know every day how much you wanted, and STILL want them.


  1. I'm so so sorry your Mom said those horrible things to you. No mother should say ANYTHING like that to their child - be they adopted or biological. That's just heartbreaking. :-(

  2. Such an interesting life story you have. All preparing you to be a great mom, I think. But I've always thought about this topic because my husband and I have always said we wanted to adopt. We want to have a couple biological kids and then adopt a couple. Now, with the infertility, we're thinking there's a chance the adopting might come first. And something about that actually appeals to me from the adopted child's perspective (not that I'm ready to give up on conceiving our own yet). I just wish the process of adopting weren't so stinkin' complicated and expensive...

  3. Oh, Alex, I'm so sorry you had to hear those things. Those are utterly cruel statements to make to any child.

    Not speaking ill of your parents or any foster/adoptive parents, but it is unrealistic to think that you can pluck a child out of an abusive or neglectful environment and plant them in a new home with new family members and expect the child to grow and blossom without any issue. I say that as a former child welfare social worker, having seen loads of inappropriate and severely inadequate parenting in my time. Sometimes foster/adoptive parents aren't really educated about some of the extra special care and patience and support needed for their child... Not saying that you were a bad kiddo--just that lots of education, support and attention are needed regarding attachment issues for little ones who experienced so much disruption at such a little age.

    Anyway, your history gives you such a unique and valuable perspective--and will give good dimension and perspective to your future role as a mama.

  4. Oh wow, I can't believe all you've been through. I hope my blog post didn't make you feel worse. Both my brothers are adopted. From my perspective all of us were equally wanted and loved. There was never any difference between any of us. But one of my brothers was also four when he was adopted and also had a really hard time adjusting, due to the first three years of his life. I cannot even imagine my mother saying things like that. Those words seem nothing less than deliberately hurtful. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. Your insight has just reinforced the need for DH and I to really think hard about how to answer some of the adoption questions. The last thing we'd ever want to do is make a child feel second-best or not wanted. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Take care.

  5. Wow, your story is so interesting and so very sad. I'm sorry your mom said those things to you - that was a horrible thing for her to do. You've definitely given me something to think about if I ever start the adoption process.

  6. I've thought about this a lot. I promise to make sure our child knows every single day how loved they are.

    I really appreciate you sharing your story with us. I was hoping you would write a post like this.