The problem of narrow stories

There was a post in the adoptee community about adoptive parents and sharing the stories of your children. “How much is too much?” is the basic question that comes up, over and over. For many people, there is no limit to how much to share — and this is increasingly true across the board, not just inside adoption. With the pervasiveness of social media, and people’s need to craft an online persona, though, I am also starting to see that the pat adoption story might be harmful to all involved.

As a feminist, I’ve often argued to male friends and co-workers that traditional gender roles are restrictive for women and men. That men should be freed of those narrowly-defined, socially acceptable terms of living, too. In recent years, I think maybe we focus too much on people’s “categories” instead of just getting to know people. My gender and sex line up, and that puts me in a majority position of privilege, where I don’t need to think about it. But my adoption puts me in an outsider role, where I don’t take things for granted at all. I think that these discussions or processes of thinking are also good for considering adoption.

I don’t want to be defined by the story my adoptive parents told me in my childhood. It was a simple story of two young teenagers, “very much in love,” who didn’t intend to get pregnant and weren’t ready to be parents, but luckily for me, my adoptive parents were just waiting for a child.

In that story, I was an unwanted baby, product of sinful teenaged sex, a person who could, by my very existence, ruin the futures of two teenagers. I was also “the answer to the prayers” of my adoptive parents, a baby they were excited to receive. Their story is about the last-minute phone call, the scramble to finish setting up the nursery, the joy of finally having a baby. For my first mother, I was something she was supposed to forget and move on from, an impediment she “fixed” through adoption.

None of those stories are much about me, though. And all these are really narrow, very confined, restrictive roles. They suit none of us.

My adoptive parents had a rocky road of infertility behind them, of national and international events interfering in their family-building time line, of grief and heartache and joy and of living their lives without children. None of that makes it into this story. They became parents, found and lost jobs, dealt with children, grew older.

My first mother had an accidental pregnancy, a determination to finish high school, family discord, and her own grief. Her life trajectory wasn’t “fixed” by adoption, but nor was it “ruined” by pregnancy. She did not become the person she’d hoped to be at 17, talking to an adoption counselor, but she became an adult with a career, a complex family network, a husband, and dreams.

My own life has involved learning and embracing the complexities of how I got here and the strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics of all my families. And learning how unable to accept the complexity of adoption our society is. This complexity isn’t always comfortable, but it’s true and real and I am happier sitting in the midst of the maelstrom than I ever was with the closed book of stories from the past.

Fleshing out my story, filling in the missing pieces, knowing about my mother and her mother and all the bits of family that I’m still filling in has grounded me. Talking to my mother about what life was like before kids, I see some of the unprocessed pain of infertility that still lingers. We ARE a family affected by adoption. We ARE living with adoption today.

Our stories do matter. The nuances, the word choice, the unexplored biases and judgments within them — these do matter. We need to be able to tell our stories, out loud, in our own words, in order to define ourselves and our places in our worlds. This is the power of flipping the script, of living adoption out loud.


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