07 Nov Thoughts on National Adoption Awareness Month
November is National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM). To be honest, until about 5 years ago, I didn’t know this was a thing. November is right after my birthday month of October. Unlike many people who were adopted, I’ve always enjoyed my birthday. It’s fun to feel special and get gifts. This all changed with reunion.
Now, I’m super-aware that my 1st mother isn’t calling me the way my (a)mom does on the 9th of October. Sometimes, there’s a birthday card at the end of the month. This feels like I’m an afterthought.
By November, I’m VERY aware of my adoption. In fact, for most people who were adopted, whether at birth or through the foster care system, it’s there, lurking in our mind. Even if unacknowledged, adoption is present in the way we deal with connection, separation, rejection, new places, and in building identity.
What is National Adoption Awareness Month?
A month set aside to raise awareness about the urgent need for adoptive families for children and youth in foster care. The history of National Adoption Month dates back to 1976 when Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis announced the first Adoption Week. Governor Dukakis’s idea grew in popularity and quickly spread nationwide.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week, and in 1995, under President Bill Clinton, the week was expanded to the entire month of November.
It’s also become a month for adoptees, birth families, adoptive families and adoption professionals to celebrate adoption, to reflect on adoption practices and its lifelong effects on families and children, and to educate ourselves about topics surrounding adoption.
Listening to the voices of adoptees about their lived experience is overlooked by families and society. I would say this is also true of birth parents. Adoptive parents are the voice that’s heard. That’s only one perspective. This month it’s important for people who were adopted to flip the script.
My Adoption Awareness
Awareness of my own adoption has morphed and changed over the years. From I was chosen and special to I should search for my first family to searching and being rejected to doing a DNA test and finding family to all the stages of grief (Hello, Anger!) to now. Calm, sort of sad, more insight, and more acceptance of the role adoption played in my life.
Deepening friendships with adopted people, research, and sitting with adopted clients have all had a tremendous impact on my thoughts about adoption as well. Adoptees are my tribe.
Meeting members of my original family has been meaningful. I wouldn’t want to go back to not knowing them. However, experiencing both deep generosity and secondary rejection rocked my world. Wooo-weee, I’ve felt a roller coaster of emotions, on and off, for the last decade.
Finally, for as much as I truly loved my therapist, I wish that adoption trauma was brought up with me years earlier. Instead of me bringing it up when I decided to search.
Adoption-competent or at least adoption-aware therapists are necessary for adopted individuals.
My Adoption Story
I was adopted two weeks after I was born. Apparently, I was in a foster care home with a woman named Mrs. Flowers while waiting for adoption. I hope that’s true. It sounds like a fairy tale my mother would make up. Maybe she did.
My first mother was 19. Both her father and my father campaigned for abortion when she told them she was pregnant. My grandmother “supported” my mother in “getting” to place me for adoption. She has said that seeing me brings her back to age 19 – she says she thinks she has PTSD. I agree.
So I was incubated in the womb of a young woman who was alone in a Florence Crittenton maternity home, in the city where she lived with her parents, contemplating suicide and talking to me. I suppose that was my first experience sitting with someone dealing with suicidal ideation.
When I was born, I may or I may not have been held by my birth mother. She reported, within minutes of meeting me in person for the 1st time, that the baby they brought her had hair. I was bald. Confusing and heartbreaking to us both.
Then, to Mrs. Flowers and weeks later to my forever home. My adoptive home was loving, but there was also a good deal of raised voices and temper. A lot of change and sudden noises for a developing nervous system to adjust to that’s for sure.
From my adult vantage point, it’s no wonder that my felt sense in the world has been, “What the hell just happened?!”, a good deal of the time.
I believe as a result of my adoption, I have dealt with anxiety for my entire life. Better now – I know the tricks – I’ve done the work.
Alone is still a more comfortable state for me. It’s safe. Thankfully, I’ve grown to trust people and connect deeply. My family and chosen family of friends are what gives my life meaning. Yet still, my internal adoptee voice is whispering to the people I’m close to, “Please don’t leave me.”
Thoughts on Adoption
I’m not anti-adoption. I believe we should put more focus on sex-positive education for both young boys and girls. It’s normal to be sexually connected and experiment. Unplanned pregnancy shouldn’t be a women’s health issue. It’s a human health issue. A shared responsibility.
Additionally, family preservation where possible is a better option than adoption for both parent and child. When it’s not safe, support for adoptive parents is crucial.
Finally, it’s important that adoptive parents take time to acknowledge and grieve not being able to get pregnant if that’s applicable to their situation. Let’s face it, adoption is rarely a first choice for any part of the triad. Adoptive parents must develop the emotional intelligence to deal with their child’s loss when it surfaces. That can’t happen if they are still grieving themselves. It’s not an adoptive or foster child’s job to fill in a couple’s image of a family.
My awareness of adoption is that it is such a complex issue. More conversation is needed. If you’re adopted or another part of the triad and you haven’t already, share your story this month, locate a support group that you feel comfortable in, and/or find an adoption competent therapist to support you on your healing journey. I’m happy to help. Call or email me.
Kate Murphy, LMSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.