Things people say about being adopted.

Babytoes
It's National Adoption Week and reading blogs this week, I'm interested to see how many other people there are who, like me, were adopted as children.  It's weirdly common – I suspect that in the 1970s social workers were far more willing to take children from 'bad' mothers and place them for adoption with 'good' families.

For me, adoption was never a big deal. I'm sure it's shaped my personality in some ways, but then I expect people raised in any environment are shaped by it – there's nothing inherently tragic or dramatic about it, I don't think.

Still, I think sometimes other people have a fascinating view of adoption. They say stuff that's weird. Like:

 

“Once upon a time there was a little girl with two Mummies, who both loved her very much…”

I was born to a 16-year-old Mum who wasn’t really equipped for marriage and parenthood, so I was taken into foster care when I was about a year old. I moved between foster care placements before ending up in a long-term placement with the family that ended up adopting me. My Mum (as she became) was a social worker and a big believer in using stories to help me come to terms with my background. I was a big believer in stories about adventures and mountains and rockets. I still remember how much I hated that stupid 'two Mummies' story.

“If you stop kicking me, we’ll take you home.”  

During my years in foster care, I was terrified of being taken away from my family. I have a pretty positive view of adoption, but I do find it bizarre that I was left in foster care limbo for the best part of nine years. One day a young married couple  who were friends with my Mum took me to a pottery for a day out. On the way home, they made an unexpected detour to their home, and I became convinced I was being given to new parents. I turned into a miniature shrieking, kicking demon until they got my Mum on the phone to reassure me that, no, she hadn’t actually given me away.

“You’ll be much more fun when you’ve been adapted.”

My older brothers told me I was being adapted at the court house, and that this might involve surgical instruments. And it would hurt even more than that time they collapsed a deckchair on my fingers and the time they cycled down a steep hill with me on the bike handlebars, straight into a wall, just to see how far I’d travel. Older brothers are evil, aren’t they?

“Yes, I know the judge asked if you wanted a new name, but we are NOT going to call you Steve.”

I was 10 years old when I was adopted. I got a day off school, but I remember being utterly outraged at having to wear a skirt to go to court on the big day. And I had to change my surname to Whittle, which meant I would of course be known as “Little Whittle” for the rest of my days. Frankly, I felt being able to call myself Steve was the LEAST I deserved.

“How does it feel to be fifteen?”

I know lots of people who are adopted feel a burning need to discover their roots and connect with their birth families, but I never did. My birth mother got in touch when I was a teenager because my younger half-sister wanted to send me a letter. During a really awkward phone call, she asked me how it felt to be 15. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d just turned 16. Maybe this explains why I felt I had the best possible family already, and I didn't need to hunt down a new one.

“You can’t tell.”

What one of my friends at university told me when I mentioned that I was adopted. I’m still not entirely sure what she expected in terms of ‘evidence’ of adoption – purple hair? A special t-shirt? Periodic bouts of weeping?

“You’re special because you were chosen.”

This is one of those lines that gets trotted out all the time about adoption. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said it to me over the years. I don’t know how other adopted people feel about it, but I hate it. Because every time you tell me I was chosen, I think about how before I was chosen I was ‘not chosen’ by the people in the world who are basically genetically programmed to like you best. Which isn't exactly a cheery thought. Rationally, of course I know that I had a better life in every possible way because I was adopted, and I’m profoundly grateful that I was given that opportunity. But I don’t think it makes me special.  Just lucky.

 

 

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

21 Comments

  1. 2nd November 2010 / 10:51 pm

    Another 1970s adoptee here, though I was taken into foster care immediately and adopted 8 weeks later.
    My parents used ‘you’re special because we chose you’ line and that suited me. It never occurred to me until your post that I was ‘not chosen’ before I was chosen, how interesting! My take on it has always been that my birth mother knew she wouldn’t be able to cope (who knows whether she actually would have coped in the end, but adoption was pretty much the norm as far as I can tell for 18 year old single mums in 1972), and that she was incredibly strong and brave to give me up – I still completely admire her for it.
    I have no burning wish to ‘complete myself’ by meeting up with my birth family; I grew up in a fab family and that is what shaped most of who I am today. However, I would really like to know who they are and what became of them – and all the ins and outs of the situation which led to me being adopted. I would find that really really interesting as it’s a piece of my own story I just don’t know. I’d quite like to find all that out without impinging on my birth mother’s life though, just in case me appearing would be the worst thing to happen to her. I’d hate to do that to someone.
    I’m on the adoption contact register though, just in case any of my birth family did decide they wanted to get in touch. I wouldn’t go searching, but am happy to be found, if that makes sense.

  2. 2nd November 2010 / 11:07 pm

    I quite agree you should have been allowed to be called Steve…thought provoking post. Thank you.

  3. 3rd November 2010 / 12:05 am

    Thanks for commenting. Yes, I also think my birth mother did the right thing and I am grateful to her for making a choice that must have been incredibly hard and difficult. But I guess I’m complete enough as is, so I haven’t registered – although I wonder these days with Facebook whether you could be traced in 10 seconds by anyone with an Internet connection regardless!

  4. 3rd November 2010 / 12:06 am

    Thanks for commenting – and yes, I would have made a *fantastic* Steve.

  5. 3rd November 2010 / 12:39 am

    Bravo!!! A bit of honesty about adoption!!! My cousin was adopted and perfect strangers would come up to us at school and say how special she was to “be chosen” and was she looking for her “real mommy” we would all cringe!!! So many of our friends have adopted kids. South Africa is a nation in the middle of an “orphan crisis” and it certainly seams to have lost the gasp and hushed whispers that surrounded adoption when I was at school. Now it is becoming more the norm here to add a kidlet or two to your family, its nice – rainbow families in a rainbow nation.

  6. 3rd November 2010 / 9:12 am

    Not adopted but your post kind of resonated with me anyway.
    People say very odd things when they don’t know what to say!

  7. 3rd November 2010 / 9:51 am

    You would have made a great Steve.
    I have a cousin who was adopted. Like you he was fostered long-term by my aunt and uncle, and then they adopted him after a few years. For me he is just my cousin – he’s an integral part of the family and being adopted could never change that. However, my mum came out with something outrageous a year or two ago – she referred to him as ‘not really family’. When I questioned her about this, she said ‘Well, he’s not blood, is he? So he’s not family.’ I told her off thoroughly and tried to explain how very wrong she was, reminding her that she has two foster sisters who she treats like and talks of like they are family. All I got out of her was ‘Well, I suppose so,’ but I hope it made her rethink her attitude.
    I also have a friend who was adopted and has met her birth mother and gets on quite well with her, but she is absolutely categorically not her mother – her mum is and always will be. I remember a funny thing her mum said – apparently she was at a coffee morning with a bunch of mums and they were all discussing the relative difficulties of their labours and my friends mum said ‘Oh, both mine were an absolute doddle. I just popped in, picked them up and brought them home. Easy. No pain at all.’

  8. 3rd November 2010 / 11:09 am

    I have no experience of being adopted and only recently learned that one of my friends was adopted. She’s just chosen to meet her real father. I can see from what you’ve written that there are lots of things that you shouldn’t say (and I get the point about being ‘not chosen’) but what ^could^ or ^should^ I say to be a supportive friend?

  9. 3rd November 2010 / 11:24 am

    Yes, I used to do a lot of cringing – people would ask me what I called my Mum, or express sympathy if I mentioned that I was adopted, and I think it’s that assumption that you’re not a ‘real’ member of the family that got to me most, as a kid. I can’t speak for my adoptive family, but for me, I never felt any different to my brothers or ‘less’ in any way when I was a child.

  10. 3rd November 2010 / 11:27 am

    I think some women genuinely can’t get past adoption. My foster Dad’s Mum was one of them. I remember visiting one Christmas and my brothers got various expensive presents (an electric organ, which in those days was a BIG deal) and I got.. a chocolate orange.
    Another year I got a second-hand girls’ world head that was left over from the church jumble sale she organised each year.
    Truth was she was a lovely, kind woman who did lots for charity and was generous in many ways – she just genuinely didn’t consider that I was a ‘real’ part of the family at all.

  11. 3rd November 2010 / 11:29 am

    Blimey, I’m horribly aware I’m only writing from my own perspective so I’m cautious of offering advice. For me, though, I always felt my family was my family, regardless of blood or birth, and I’m always amazed when people don’t automatically see it the same way.
    It’s tricky because I’ve no desire to meet my birth family, but I guess it’s a charged situation and you can only be supportive in the way you would be through any difficult process – I imagine she’s very worried about being rejected twice over, and would probably benefit from some reassurance that these are just people and their opinion of her isn’t the definitive one simply because she happens to be related to them.

  12. Dave
    3rd November 2010 / 1:40 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this, Sally. I seem to have this built in belief that adopted children – and eventual adults – for some reason would never want to talk about being adopted. I really have no idea why.

  13. 3rd November 2010 / 7:21 pm

    Well there you go Sally, we have something in common! I was adopted too (in the late 60s)and reading your post has inspired me to write one too – I’ll do the whole link back thing (or whatever it’s called), yours was a really interesting read, but I wish I’d had the positive experience you had. Still, it’s shaped the person I am, and I’m pretty pleased with her!

  14. Jess
    3rd November 2010 / 7:46 pm

    Lovely post, Sally. My sister is adopted and I don’t know many sisters who are as close as we are. So for my own, entirely selfish reasons, I can only say a big Hurrah! for National Adoption Week. But one thing occurs to me: even though she’s black and I’m white, I NEVER introduce her to anyone as my ‘adopted sister’, only as my sister. She’s much more open and eloquent about explaining the circumstances to people. I get a bit huffy.

  15. 4th November 2010 / 12:33 am

    You’re just great. The whole line about “‘evidence’ of adoption – purple hair? A special t-shirt? Periodic bouts of weeping?” is a cracker.
    My father died when I was 3 and my mum remarried 2 years later. I always rather liked my status as an exotic creature with a non standard family set up and felt lucky that my stepfather clearly loved me when, as I saw it, he might not have and that would have been fair enough. This was clearly further evidence that I was lovable.

  16. 4th November 2010 / 10:41 am

    Sally, I’ve done my own post on my feelings on adoption too – I’d really like to say thanks for inspiring me to write about how I feel on the subject!
    So there you go – thanks Steve!

  17. Nikki
    4th November 2010 / 1:56 pm

    Hi Sally,
    My Mum was adopted within her family when she was 5, and my parents also adopted my older brother when he was 6 months old. It was something my parents were always open with us about and we never really thought of him as adopted (unless we were fighting and then I will admit to throwing it into the argument and him throwing back that he didn’t get a choice in choosing our family and would have chosen a better sister if he had the choice!! Kids LOL).
    Adoptions been the norm in our family :-)) My brother is my brother, his Son is my nephew and my grandparents were my grandparents. End of.
    Love
    Nikki

  18. 4th November 2010 / 3:36 pm

    What a fab post. I grew up in a family full of adoption, fostering and never quite being able to tell who’s kids belonged to whom. my mother was a rare teenage mother in the late 1960s who did keep her baby (my oldest brother), but he spent times living with grandparents, aunts and uncles. In turen, we took in cousins and friends, often teenagers who were kicked out of their house and found refuge in ours. If anyone asks, I have 5 brothers and sisters, but the actual blood lines tell a different tale. We were brought up to understand that siblings don’t have to have any of the same parents to be brothers and sisters and its one of teh greatest gifts my parents ever gave me.
    For my own family, we have always said at least one of our children would be adopted. However, living here in the UK makes me sometimes wonder if the government really wants adoptive parents. In the US (at least where I am from), its celebrated and valued. Heck, there are even tax breaks! Our enquires in every council we have lived in have been a bit on the cool side. We are undeterred, but recognise its a long road ahead.
    Anyway, rambling….

  19. Livi
    5th November 2010 / 9:55 pm

    Henceforth you shall be Steve!

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