Why is adoption different?

I think that adoption loss, for the adoptee, for sure, is harder because it’s unacknowledged loss. I was trying to explain that to a friend recently, someone who has been around for my whole reunion story — from the decision to search on.  While she in no way invalidated what I was saying, she asked a very common question: How is that different from any other family?

How is not fitting in different? Everyone feels that way some times.

How is not being quite part of your family different? Many people don’t fit in with their families.

How is losing your first family, which you didn’t even know, different than all the family that died before you met them?

And you know what? I get it. I’ve asked the same questions. Why I am a special snowflake with these special problems? Everyone’s got baggage. Everyone’s got shit to deal with.

For adoptees, though, often you’re carrying a load of baggage that everyone tells you isn’t there. A bucket of loss. A sure knowledge that there was another way for your life to go (at least one other way. Infinite other ways). A bushel of questions about who and where these traits — physical and otherwise — came from. Questions about what the future holds.

It’s not that these are unique questions. I think their weight is different, their place is different, and the depth of some of them is unacknowledged by anyone around you. For me, I didn’t even know the depth. I didn’t know whether I couldn’t figure out who I was because I was a teenager or because I was adopted or because I was just a head case who needed to be locked up for my own safety. Because I was mostly afraid it was the last, I kept quiet.

And I think that that loss reverberates in ways that I don’t even fully understand now.

I lost my biological father before I was born; he still doesn’t acknowledge more than the possibility of paternity. I lost my first mother as soon as I was born. I did not see her again until I was in my 30s. I lost my adoptive father when I was 20, my only grandfather (adoptive) when I was 21, and I now know I lost my maternal grandfather at the same time. My grandmother died when I was 30.

All of these losses whittled my family down, but if I’m honest, I was numb to many of them. I’d moved away. My daily life didn’t change. I’ve been far from all of my family this entire century, and I think it’s protected me from experiencing the immediacy of these losses.

I think that some of my relationship to loss was formed at birth, at that first big loss, and that the fact that it went unacknowledged for more than three decades leaves me confused at what to do in the face of loss.

I think adoptee sensitivity to loss, usually coupled with decades of denial about that loss, complicate what are otherwise pretty common identity and grappling with life questions. I think the persistent not knowing about our origins makes it harder for us to construct a complete and cohesive life narrative. I think having falsified government documents about our own identity makes many of us feel unreal.



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