Is There Such a Thing as a Happy Adoptee?

Dawn Davenport


Can an adopted child ever truly be happy?

Can an adopted child ever truly be happy?

If you haven’t been following the comments on my blog last week on the future of international adoptions, especially those comments from adult adoptees, you really have missed an important discussion.  After reading the comments, one prospective adoptive parent, Sara, posted the following on the Creating a Family Facebook Support group:

Is there ever such a thing as a ‘happy adoptee’? Or, are we just deluding ourselves?  I want very badly to parent, and have always hoped to have a home full of children, but if we are doing them more harm than good, as most of the adult adoptee/first mother websites/blogs/comments I’ve read have stated, I love them (whomever they may be) too much to harm them that way. Sure adoption would feel good for me, but does it ever ‘feel good’ for the child? If not, why do we do it?

Adoptive Parents vs. Adoptees?!?

How in the world did we get here folks?  How in the name of all that is holy did we reach a point of such contention between adoptive parents and adopted persons?

Both sides are guilty of “boxing”—placing the other side in a tight little box where we define the parameter.  In our discussions, at least those online, it seems as if neither side really listens to what the other is saying because we are so sure we already know their position and are too busy preparing our rebuttal.

I firmly believe (although in real life don’t always practice) that in any misunderstanding the first place to look is at myself.  I can’t get into the other side’s head, nor can I change their position. The best I can do is analyze the ways I’ve contributed to the problem.  I’m an adoptive mom and an adoption educator, so what I can offer is my look at “our” side in this misunderstanding.  I think we as a group, fall prey to many myths.

Myth of One Dimensional Happiness

What exactly do we mean by “happy” or “well adjusted”?  How exactly are we measuring an adopted persons happiness? Would any of us fit that definition?

Within the last several weeks I heard from two struggling adoptive parents-one has been slammed with an unexpected wave of infertility grief and another is struggling with a child who is not attaching as she had hoped.  I’ve also been reading the 280 comments on my blog Delays in Receiving the Adoption Tax Credit-What You Can Do-many of which are pretty darn mad.  So I ask you—”Is there such a thing as a happy adoptive parent?”

Of course there is.  The adoptive parents I’ve been hearing from are happy some of the time, even though struggling and frustrated at other times.  We humans have the amazing capacity to hold dual emotions at the same time.  We can be sad/mad/frustrated about something, but at the same time be happy and satisfied in general.  We might want to blog and comment on the thing we are mad about, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole of our life.   It is indeed possible to be both things at once. The same with adoptees.

Also, happiness and adjustment are not static in time.  An adoptee’s feeling towards adoption and the loss of his birth family often changes over time, developmental stage, and life events.  For some the birth of a child brings forth feelings of anger or sadness that they had previously not experienced.  For others, a health crisis precipitates anger at the adoption laws that prevent them from finding out their family medical history.

The same can be said for the feelings and emotions of adoptive parents.  Some are blissfully happy until their child’s more challenging teen years when they start questioning if their relationship would be better if they had a biological connection. Others feel more like a babysitter than a parent at the beginning, but grow into their parenting role with time.

Happiness is also affected by temperament.  By their nature, some folks are just basically happy and fairly content with their lot in life and some are born questioners and challengers. The world needs both kinds.  Some adopted persons are intensely curious about their first family and feel the loss of this connection acutely, and some don’t.  I once interviewed an adopted woman in her mid-40s who had never had an interest in searching for her first family. She described herself as pretty laid back and just not that curious, yet she felt judged by other adoptees, adoptive parents, and the general public, for this lack of interest.

Myth of the “Oughta Be Grateful” Adoptee

I have a question for all you adoptive mommas out there– who amongst you has not sat over a glass of wine or coffee with your best friend and kvetched about your mother?  And did you first preface it with “I love my mother, she is the greatest and I am so grateful that she decided to parent me, and I don’t mean any offense, but (fill in the complaint of the day)?

No, you did not.

Most likely it went something like “I love my mom, but that woman is driving me nuts with (fill in complaint). If you were really ticked, you left off the “I love her part” and didn’t worry that you would seem overly ungrateful, because that is assumed.  Not so for adoptees.

Many adoptees feel that if they complain about their parents or the institution of adoption, they are accused of being ungrateful or angry.  No adoptive parent would ever actually say that they expect gratitude, but when we get freaked out over negative comments by adopted people aren’t we sending that message?

Most adoptees feel the same degree of gratitude towards their parents as non-adopted persons and the same degree of frustration.  As to the institution of adoption, adoptees are in the unique position of living the adoption experience from the inside, and they are the only ones who can tell us what that experience is like for the person in the center—the one we are supposed to be making all our decisions in the best interest of. We need for them to speak up, even if it makes us uncomfortable.  Their advice will be contradictory at times and some will come from uncommonly bad experiences, but those of us who care about the institution of adoption need to hear it all.

Myth of the Generic Adoptee

One of my pet peeves is that many discussions about adoption and adoptees, we box the adoption experience by “alls” and “shoulds”.

  • All adoptees are ________ (take your pick: angry, happy, sad, grateful).
  • All adoptees should ________ (want to search for birth families, need therapy).
  • All adoptees experience _______(the primal wound, feelings of rejection).

Adoptive parents can be guilty of hearing one adopted person speak and then generalizing her opinions to the whole.  (Truthfully, plenty of adoptees fall prey to this myth as well, but I’m focusing in this blog on the adoptive parent side of this issue.)

This is absurd if you think about it.  How would you like all adoptive parents to be viewed by the opinions or actions of a few—say Torry Hansen (the mom who “returned” her seven year old to Russia) or even the mom who is deliriously happy and claims to have no need to understand racial differences even though she is the mom to three African American kids.  Likewise, the adult adoptee community is not homogeneous, and as with any group, we hear from just a few.

In truth, we are more likely to hear from those who have a bone to pick because that’s human nature. The people who are quietly content with their lot in life have little need to speak up.  Some do because they are altruistically oriented, but I suspect that most do not.

I have tried over the years to make sure that I interview adoptees that are not active with the adoption business and not active with adult adoptee groups to make sure their voices are heard.  Here’s an excerpt from an interview with a 34 year old adopted from Korea by a Caucasian family when she was three. She now lives in a small town in the southeast, and until I told her about online groups for adult adoptees, she had never visited them.  She does not speak for the masses any more than the vocal bloggers or the adoption agency employees.  Hers is just one voice amongst many, but one you might not have heard.

I am immensely glad I was adopted—I feel blessed actually, which I might add, is very different from feeling appreciative.  For me the thought that I am supposed to be appreciative has negative connotations because shouldn’t everyone (adopted or not) feel appreciative of their family?  My family is my family.  I know no other, and I love them all dearly.

As you grow older you start to understand that children inherit certain traits from their parents.  As an adopted child you miss out on that.  You take that for granted if you are not adopted; it’s just a part of you–your history and your future.  I think most adopted people feel as though there is something missing…just a little part of you.  If you’re lucky to have children of your own, it fills you up and provides that missing puzzle piece.  The first time I saw my first born was the first time I saw someone who looked like me and was related to me by blood.  That was an amazingly wonderful feeling.

After the birth of my first child I had to work through some anger I had pent up related to being adopted.  I wondered how anyone could give up such a beautiful, helpless baby, and I was mad that someone had done that to me.  The generic reasons (oh, your mom couldn’t afford you….she just wanted the best for you) were all offensive to me.  The idea that people would assume the reason for abandonment was only positive made me feel like they were washing over the possible truths behind my “beginning” (as if the truth really didn’t matter).  I just had to work through these feelings….which I did.

I hear of some adult adoptees that are angry that they were adopted.  This is not my experience, but I try to understand where they are coming from.  It’s hard not knowing your own history.  This can create a feeling of always having to prove your self-worth.  Also, not everyone was adopted into a nurturing loving family that was willing to love unconditionally.  I think the angry outcry of these adoptees is a cry for attention and validation.  They get a lot of attention because they vent their hurt publicly.  The reason that the rest of us “contented adoptees” don’t get as much attention is that we are busy living our lives.  We’re not focused on the past and playing the blame game.  We’re focused on living.

Obviously there is no right or wrong way to raise your children.  Adopted children just want to be loved and accepted.  As they grow older they want answers, so it is important to provide the answers when you can and to give them the support and tools to find those answers you can’t provide.  Take your cues from your children.

The Answer

So Sara, of course there are happy adoptees and unhappy adoptees and sometime these are the same people.  Just because they complain or point out ways adoption needs to improve does not make them “angry”.  We are going to continue our dialog between adult adoptees and adoptive parents later this week, so stay tuned by signing up for our weekly email newsletter at the top right of this page.  In the meantime, let me recommend the following for adoptive parents to read to expand their concept of “the happy adoptee”:

  • Pieces of Me: Who do I Want to Be edited by Robert L. Ballard.  Collection of essays, poems, art by adoptees that reflect the diversity of the adoptee experience. Great great resource for adoptive parents and adopted persons.
  • Conformity, differences, and rebelling… “I see this picture [of one pink flower amidst a sea of purple flowers] as symbolic of how I feel when it comes to being an adoptee.  Never quite fitting in.  It doesn’t matter which family.”

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Image credit:  KaitlynKalon
Originally posted in 2011, edited and updated in 2015

17/08/2015 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 53 Comments

53 Responses to Is There Such a Thing as a Happy Adoptee?

  1. Avatar Carmen Durfey says:

    I am 51 years old . Well adjusted, happy and have successesfuly raised my own family . I have never been angry with my birth parents or felt rejected or like a peice of me was missing. I had a thought out of blue about 2 months ago to find my birth parents, so I acted on it and this his what I found.
    So …. I found my birth mother this weekend and needed to do some
    theraputic writing about it. if your interested in a pretty amazing story then by all means read on.
    It’s very strange to pick up the phone and talk to a complete stranger, who remembers you and gave you life. I somewhere thought something would sound familiar in her voice, that it would at least remind me of myself, but there was nothing in the voice. She asked me a few questions and asked about my childhood. I said,” One of the reasons I always thought it would be hard if I found her was that would have to tell her that the childhood she envisioned for me when she gave me to someone else, is not the child hood I had. It all is well now but it’s not what she thought she gave me up to.”
    She talked a little bit more about this and that and then she said; “well I suppose you want to know about your father?”I said I guess so, she said” I have a name for you if you want it. This is what I always dreaded about this day, is that I would have to tell you that it was a rape.” She said “I knew who he was, so I do have a name; I was not attacked by a stranger. “She said, I was acquainted with him and had seen him around. She said he was a very handsome man. When he showed up at my door inviting me to go get a coke I naively went. It was terrible…… and then there was you.”

    It all became crystal clear to me in my mind as to why I had had no desire to search for her till now,as a young woman it would have shaped my self esteem and messed with my head way too much to know I was conceived by a rape. In my 20’s and 30’s I was busy with raisnng my own kids and just living my life. And I don’t think I would have appreciated the depth of her sacrifice.Now at 51, I know who I am and that fact has always been the reality of the situation. And now that I know , it changes nothing about me and who I am. What it does change is my admiration and respect for this lady.

    My 52 year old “mom heart” breaks for a 20 year old girl who found herself raped and traumatized only to find out she was going to now have her rapist’s baby. But she did not have to have me. What better reason has there ever been for abortion? Is that not our law argument all the time even for pro life? “Except for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother?” She did not have to have me. This was 1963-64 people, she was pregnant and unwed and even in rape cases she was the one that would have been put on trial. This was by far the hardest way for her to go. She had already been through hell. This woman chose to be moved across the state from her family to be hidden, because that is what they did in 1964, to give me life and then hand me off to a stranger.

    She said they would not let her hold me. She was only allowed to look at me for about 2 minutes and in that two minutes she burned an image of me into her heart that she could never erase. When she had her other children and especially her daughter, she saw me in her. She carries a scar of me on her heart.
    She is then expected to go back home, enroll in college and to act like a normal college age girl who has not had her entire world shattered, So that’s what she does, She goes on to marry and have 4 children of her own. She is a wonderful mother to them. She builds a great life and at once a year on a November 25th she wonders if I am alive or dead and if my life has been good.

    52 years later I finally have the courage to find her to tell her thank you for her sacrifice. I have always thought I would tell her thank you for giving me life. But I had no idea the depth of gratitude I really should have for her. In most standards, she had every justification to end my life. It would not have been faulted her. She knew I was worth it and she was right. Every single baby is worth it!
    She chose to be hidden and heartbroken for me. She then made the sacrifice of giving me up. I owe her my life twice really, the literally giving me life and for giving me the life that I have had, by giving me away.
    As I stare at a picture of 5 complete strangers, that sort of look like me but that I have nothing in common accept some genetic traits. I am so thankful for the life that I have had the EXACT life that I have had.
    My childhood was not ideal, but I was placed by God exactly where I was supposed to be with exactly the family I was supposed to have so that I could end up with the life that I have. Gods timing is perfect and his plan is miraculous. It takes time to see the bigger picture in our lives but when it unfolds it’s pretty spectacular to witness. That I know with all my heart. I now thank God even more for a woman willing to follow his plan for her and me.

    • Avatar Beth Fricker says:

      It must have been traumatic. I was fortunate enough to meet my birth mom and have her say she always thought about me. It was a relationship and they were young …
      As she said, “When he heard ‘baby’, he was gone.” Admittedly I always wondered about my genetic background but my parents were wonderful people and I always felt loved.
      When I think about it , maybe my sister’s development was affected – she was also adopted.
      I know this is perhaps a bad analogy, but my husband and I have a pit bull. There is so much prejudice and it is how you raise them.

  2. Avatar Angela says:

    I am adopted (adopted at six months old and I am now 50) and, even though both my adoptive parents have now sadly passed away, I have no desire to look for my birth parents. I had a happy and quite privileged childhood and I believe everything is for a reason and that my birth parents gave me up for a better life. It’s very hard to find articles on being a happy adoptee and I was starting to feel I was abnormal for not feeling abandoned. You can’t even say you are happy to be adopted without an anti-adoption opinion coming back and asking why I posted a comment. I did it because the negativity seems to be so strong surrounding adoption. I was adopted in 1965 under a closed adoption and I do not have a single clue as to who my biological parents are or whether I was unwanted, they couldn’t cope, she was underage and he ran off, she was raped … whatever … (I include biological mother and father in this – I didn’t come out of an immaculate conception) I believe I was given a better life for it.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Angela, I was interviewing a number of adult adoptees for my book The Complete Book of International Adoption. One of the women said she has wondered about that as well. Her conclusion was that people who are content with the situation and their life have little reason to go to online adoption groups and comment. It simply wasn’t a priority for them. In fact, until I interviewed her and told her, she wasn’t even aware that these type of groups were available online.

      I am thankful for all the adult adoptees that are willing to participate in online groups because we need to learn from you. We need to hear from all, including those who feel as you do, so please keep posting. I will point out that many of the adoptees who participate are not “unhappy” particularly with adoption or their life. They are even “pro-adoption” but have issues with the way adoption is currently practiced or was practiced when they were adopted. For example, they want to be able to get medical information from their birth parents, or they feel that it is demeaning to have their original birth certificate sealed away from them when they are adults.

      Consider joining the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group ( It’s a closed Facebook group so that only those in the group can see the posts.

      • Avatar Carol says:

        I am a 70 year old adult adoptee. Yes, I am angry, but not primarily because of my adoption.
        I have extremely bad sight. I was sent to a “sight saving” class…8 grades, 1 teacher, all students with sight problems. p.s. I have a masters degree.
        My dad could understand why I was angry about my disrupted education. My mother attributed my anger to my adoption. My dad’s people did not treat me any differently then the rest of the children. My mom’s people were always distant.
        So, how much of the angry adoptee is really unacceptance of lack of fertility?

    • Avatar Carmen Durfey says:

      I was adopted in 1964. Depending on the state you may be able to get your original birth certificate now. They have changed the laws In many states. I just sound my birth mother . I never had a desire to find her but now ins glad I did. If for no other reason to thank her. For giving me life and for giving me the life I had by giving me away.

  3. Avatar Nomad says:

    National Adoption Month is November. Once and Adoptee, always an adoptee. Nov 05, 2015 is the goal for 100,000 signatures on either of this petition promoting the Foreign Adopted Children for Equality Act. I’m a fellow adoptee trying to raise awareness. I would like any assistance and support.

  4. Avatar Robyn Cisar says:

    I really enjoyed reading the 34 year old adoptee’s experience. I’m a 24 year old adoptee who was reunited with my biological family at age 19. My older brother was adopted from South Korea at 8 months old. Adoption is very near and dear to my heart. To say my brother and I were truly happy adoptees would be an understatement. We had great childhoods and healthy relationships.

    My brother hasn’t met his biological family yet, but he is not begrudged by it. I, on the other hand, have met my “biofam” and still continue in relationship with them. As an adoptee, I have always felt it important to reaffirm my adoptive parents role in my life. They have not been replaced in any way – I simply had a place in my heart saved for these familial strangers. And I feel blessed, too, to have multiplied my family after reuniting with them.

    I am working on a blog project ( focused on sharing my experience growing up adopted and meeting my biological family. I think it’s important for the adoptees’ experiences to be documented and understood by all parents – adoptive or otherwise.

  5. Avatar N says:

    “No adoptive parent would ever actually say that they expect gratitude.”

    Baloney. Many of us were regularly told how fortunate we were to have been placed into a loving home…even if our home wasn’t especially loving, as if our alternative was being placed in some sort of Dickensian orphanage. My adoptive mother’s frequent refrain was, “I have SUCH an ungrateful child.”

    I once read the phrase that for infertile couples, adoption is the choice of last resort. That phrase put much of my childhood in perspective. It’s easy to love babies, to fuss over delightful toddlers. But as I grew into a unique person with a distinct personality, my value to my adoptive mother dissipated. I didn’t understand she had withdrawn her love. By age 5, her emotional abandonment had begun. By age 10, I was a basket case. At 17, I went away to college, and never moved back home. I still didn’t understand my adopted family’s rejection, and had come to accept that I must have truly been a rotten piece of work for my poor parents to have raised. I spent my twenties making apologies, and chasing after my parents’ love.

    A great revelation came during pregnancy. I realized I could NEVER treat my own children the way I was treated. I saw myself as a child, wishing I could comfort that despairing, self-hating, self-destructive person I was back then.

    I still love my adoptive mother, not by choice, but because I bonded to her. It will always be a painful, one-way love…a love curse. For me, adoption has been a chance to be rejected by four parents: a biological father who denied his paternity of me; a biological mother who relinquished me to an agency and later told me to never contact her again after I found her; a largely unavailable adoptive father who later picked death over economic hardship; and an adoptive mother who messed with my mind and my health until I figured out what she was doing, at which point she left me for good.

    I have found peace in marriage and motherhood, and in Christ. I have three people in this world who are my family; I love them dearly, and my love is both valued and reciprocated.

    I don’t think adoption is a good thing, unless the child is truly an orphan. Even then, the child should be placed with extended family, if possible. There are better alternatives than getting mothers to hand over their babies to strangers who will legally erase the child’s history, heritage, and lineage. Would-be adoptive parents ignore the voices of adult adoptees to the peril and harm of the very children they say they want to love.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Oh N, how awful it must have been for you. No child deserves to be treated that way! No child deserves to not be valued for who she is. I’m so sorry that was your experience. And the fact that you have found peace is a testament to the power of love and human resilience! And I couldn’t agree with you more that [Would-be adoptive parents ignore the voices of adult adoptees to the peril and harm of the very children they say they want to love.]

    • Avatar lindsey says:

      Your story tugged at my heart. We adopted our daughter four years ago from China through the special needs program. Turns out, she had no special needs. Each day I tell her how happy I am that I get to be her mom. So far, she’s all happiness. But it breaks my heart that she doesn’t fully realize what happened yet. Just a tiny thought I’d like to share…..many kids from bio families have had severe trauma and major difficulties, like myself. It was a very lonely upbringing for me, and at times I found myself wishing I could be adopted. I suffer anxiety and have many issues due to neglect. I think we are all broken in different ways, and can only hope for bright futures. The past is often painful, adopted or not. That said, I’m sorry for your sadness connected to your adoptive parents. It inspires me to connect and bond as best as I can. And I’ll do my best to hear her when she needs me to really listen.

      • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

        Lindsey, you raise a good point about brokenness and pain not being limited to adoption.

        • Avatar Sarah says:

          Yes, Lindsey, I agree. You do make a very good point. I have struggled with if we are doing more harm than good by adopting. Your reply, as well as N’s, reminded me of my own childhood. I used to literally have to control myself from going up to complete strangers and asking if they would just please take me home and adopt me. I used to will myself into other people’s cars as we were going down the road. Yes, everyone can be broken in many different ways – adopted or not. I was not adopted, but sure wished I could have been. Sounds terrible. My mom did used to say to me, and about me, that I was “so ungrateful” or needed to be “more grateful” for being a part of the family. Yes, I am sure I was not adopted, btw. I honestly thought everyone said that to their kids until I gently said it to my step-sister when she was pouting. My step-mom said it was the strangest thing she’d ever heard a kid say. I never said it again. My mom was raised by her dad and step-mom and her step-mom would say and do strange things in an effort to establish her “motherhood”. I’m sure that’s where my mom got it. Dawn, I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said as well and it has been a much needed reality check. Thank you!

    • Avatar Greg says:

      No human being deserves to be raised this way adopted or not. I am so sorry that you experienced this and hope you continue to share your stories with others.

    • Avatar Snookums says:

      “I have SUCH an ungrateful child.”

      My biological mom said this to me all the time. And worse.

      I am struck over and over again while reading adult adoptees comments that the feelings they describe occur in biological families as well, but of course they do not know this firsthand, and therefore (perhaps unfairly) blame the adoption.

      • Avatar ni says:

        Exactly. I am a therapist, and all day long, every day, I hear horrible stories of emotional and physical abuse that my clients endured growing up in their biological families (“I should have aborted you!” for example). The reality is there are terrible people who have no right to be parents, adoptive or biological, and it’s heartbreaking; but it does seem that adult adoptees who were placed in abusive homes attribute the abusiveness to the fact that it was an adoptive home, instead of simply it being the same horrible treatment that many children suffer.

  6. Avatar Liz says:

    All adoptions begin with trauma and loss. If adoptees had the right in your country to their birth information and birth certificates and the right to seek reunion there would be considerable change for the better. If adoption was separated from profit making agendas and became rooted in truth and not lies, secrets and misinformation that would be another change for the better that would help adoptees. There is much to be unhappy about but all those things can be changed and should be. If potential adopters were carefully selected, trained and supported so that they had realistic expectations of adoption there would be better outcomes. Adoptees will always have difficult experiences to deal with throughout life. It really is way over time to do it better.

  7. Avatar Cathy W says:

    You know for some, adoption is a sensitive subject no matter what is brought up or how it is brought up.

    As an adoptee myself, I fall into the “Happy” category. I am actually grateful to be adopted. It has taught me that my family is of God’s choosing and nothing else, no matter how it was formed. So I can choose to be happy about that or not and I have always been happy about it, even before I knew that it was God that gave me my family.

    Adoption is a very positive word in our home. Not only am I adopted, but have 3 adopted, all from China.

    My children know how special they are and how God brought us together and that is why we are their Forever Family and nothing will change that.

    I truly believe as adoptive parents, the way we view or think of adoption (even unspoken) is the way our children will view or think of adoption, whether it is positive or negative even in the slightest way. They will get that from us. So we truly need to be careful in the way we think about adoption.

    So my children know that being adopted is special and they are special and God says it’s so. After all He adopted us unto Himself and once again I am grateful beyond words!

  8. Avatar Kristina Grish says:

    interesting blog today, for sure!

  9. Avatar Kristina Grish says:

    sara – i think, too, that it is tricky not to touch on nerves with such a personal topic, b/c everyone sort of acts as if it’s a subject that we should instinctively know how to address, with all the “right” words and opinions, yet it’s hardly an intuitive world for most of us to navigate. so don’t feel bad. in fact, when i read the comments on that NY Times story about China this past weekend, it almost felt like a competition to see who could “speak adoption” most astutely–and, as you might expect, recognizing the adult adoptee was a v popular part of this. in fact, the article even lead with information about grief and loss etc–which was relevant to some extent, but felt more like the writer’s attempt to handle the topic with a certain degree of caution and correctness before all else. sometimes i wish that we could welcome the candid reactions of informed and well-meaning adoptive parents as much as we welcome the candid thoughts of adoptees. there’s a lot to learn from both fronts.

  10. Avatar BMS says:

    I’m a mom to two internationally adopted boys. Are they happy? Depends on the day. Are they happy/unhappy because they’re adopted? Most of the time, no. They both want to meet their birthfamily (which I’m working on – no guarantees though with international adoption) and extremely glad that they don’t have to live in a third world country without Minecraft. When I have asked them at different points in their lives if they felt like they wanted to talk to someone else about how they feel about being adopted, they look at me like I have 5 heads. They don’t see the big deal at all. Will that change? Maybe, especially as they get older (they’re 12 and 13 now). But I don’t go into things assuming that they’re going to be messed up because they’re adopted. If I had bio kids, I wouldn’t assume they were going to be messed up because some of my inlaws have mental issues. With all kids I think you just need to see what they do, and act accordingly. If my kids say they’re happy and not traumatized, and they’re acting like they’re happy and not traumatized, then I’m going to go ahead and say they’re happy and not traumatized, and then tell them to clean their rooms. Which, admittedly, will make them unhappy.

  11. Avatar Samantha says:

    Adoptees can be happy people but unhappy with the marginalization and unethical sealing of our records and adoption practices that still happen today. Unfortunately, we are lumped into “unhappy”. This seems to be a way of silencing the issues we point out. Sad.

  12. Avatar lily says:

    I agree with Renee. How dare you speak for our experience as adoptees. How dare you invade our boundaries and violate our rights to our own feelings. So, most adoptees don’t have issues? Please watch this video, a therapist who specialises in adoption trauma who believes all adoptees suffer with developmental PTSD from the separation

  13. Avatar marilynn says:

    I would like to say this that should actually make adoptive and potential adoptive parents feel way better and should make adopted people feel way better – I think a lot of what raging angry adult adopted people are pissed off at is the laws treat them unequally with other people. What sucks is that people who want to raise a kid that needs raising have to play along with those laws and rules if they are ever going to have an opportunity to offer their homes and hearts up to a kid. I really don’t think most adoptive parents or prospective ones anyway really meant to hijack a kid out of their family and erase their original identity or make the kid feel like a purchased object.

    I think if we did away with the altered birth certificate and simply added the adoption decree so that their identity never changed even if their name did. I’m not a fan of name changing in adoption, but it happens in the adoption paperwork, let it stay there the way a name change happens to a married woman on the marriage certificate, not her birth certificate. If we left adopted people in the same position as other people with a their birth records accurate for medical purposes and the ability to at any time go request the vital records of their relatives, and their relatives able to find and request theirs (just like a normal non adopted person) I think we’d see way less pissed off adopted people. In fact I know we’d see way less pissed off adopted people. They would not be objects to be sequestered and hidden by adoptive parents. I really honestly believe that adjusting the laws to treat them equal with the rest of us and also taking private industry out of the mix where people make money off their placements in adoptive homes, much of the anger would dissipate and we’d be dealing exclusively then with how people feel about one another which is totally an individual thing.

    There is a tremendous amount of unfair stuff that happens to a person who gets adopted and how the adopted person feels about that stuff can get all mixed up and misunderstood as how they feel about their rearing and non rearing families. Bottom line is that as a group this group does not have the same rights as non-adopted people and that is ridiculous. Bottom line is that anyone willing to take on the job of raising a child from birth to adulthood should not have to pay a fee for reducing the State’s financial obligation to that child. There should be no cost at all to a family willing to assume parental responsibilities on behalf of parents unable to raise their kids. And I mean no cost, no attorney’s fees nothing. It should cost nothing to open one’s home and heart to a child whose lost the ability to be raised by their parents or relatives.

    Best of all no adopted person would need help to find their missing non-rearing family and no non-rearing family would need help to find their missing adopted relatives except in cases of true foundling abandonment. There are very few foundlings in this world of hyper record keeping. Treating adopted people fairly and justly and equalizing their rights would eliminate virtually all the things they universally have to be pissed off about and then each family (and by that I mean the family of the adopted person which includes both rearing and nonrearing relatives) then the broader family of the adopted person would be left to deal with their real individual issues unmuddied by the unfair legal position we as a society put these families into.

    The laws can be changed. Things can be better. We don’t have to treat anyone unfairly or differently. That should give families of adopted people something to strive for and feel good about. Both rearing and non rearing families of adopted people should be fighting hard to change things not just for their own families but for other families in the same position. I’m quite hopeful that their can be such a thing as a fairly treated adopted person. A Happy adopted person is something the rearing and non rearing parents will need to figure out in their own homes and own time. Sometimes its 40 years before the nonrearing family can begin to contribute to the happiness of an adopted person and hopefully the rearing family welcomes their contribution out of wanting the adopted person to have all the love they deserve.

  14. Avatar Sunny says:

    Completely agree with Renee!

  15. Avatar Renee Lynne Davies says:

    Oh my God, shut up. How dare you? You are NOT entitled to speak for me or any other adoptee.

    I don’t even know where to start with this.

    I love the false (and ever-so-smug) equivalency that your anonymous (of course) Korean adoptee threw out there; that no one hears from happy adoptees because THEY have LIVES. Happy/good = silent/complacent? Sorry. No.

    I’m not unhappy. I’ve built a wonderful life for myself, and in general, I’m a happy and optimistic person. But I’m a realist. And this is my reality:

    I was given up by my mother . I was separated from her and our family and “placed” with genetic strangers, people who didn’t look like me, smell like me, laugh like me, talk like me, think like me. My original birth certificate–the one with accurate information–was sealed away and a falsified version that claimed my adopters gave birth to me was issued. I spent my youth trying to understand why I had been given away and wondering about my real family. I never bonded with my adopters. I didn’t love or even like them. I tried to, but I couldn’t. I left home at 15 and from that point on, tried to have as little contact with them as possible.

    It was supposed to be about me. That’s what everyone who works in adoption claims–that’s it’s all in the best interest of the kids–but that’s not true. It’s about the massive profits that can be realized catering to the desires of selfish, privileged people who feel entitled to other people’s children and who will cheerfully support and enable a corrupt and damaging industry SIMPLY BECAUSE IT GETS THEM WHAT THEY WANT.

    Many adoptees have come to recognize that the system/industry/process of adoption is deeply flawed, and that those flaws affect people’s lives negatively. We have chosen to speak out and say, “Hey, this system has been corrupted and it’s doing damage–please open your eyes and become part of a solution instead of continuing to be part of the problem!” That doesn’t mean that we all had horrible lives, horrible parents, etc. It doesn’t mean we’re unhappy or angry or bitter people. Life is made up of good and bad–for all of us. But the promise of adoption is “a better life.” And when our experiences inform us to injustice, it really is our responsibility to try to improve things for those who come after us. That’s the very definition of activism–and it’s what I try to do. I want to help to change the industry so that others don’t have to suffer the same kind of trauma/grief I suffered. It’s unfair and irresponsible–and just plain rude–to extrapolate beyond that.

    • Renee, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think we agree on many points and especially the main point of this blog– that it is unfair to brand adopted people as “angry” or “bitter” if they share the downsides to adoption or suggest ways it can be improved. [That doesn’t mean that we all had horrible lives, horrible parents, etc. It doesn’t mean we’re unhappy or angry or bitter people. Life is made up of good and bad–for all of us.] Exactly!

  16. Avatar Mei-Ling says:

    “One’s decision to adopt should not be contingent upon the guarantee that the child will be in love with being adopted.”

    This is a beautiful statement, and something I wish so many more adoptive parents would try to understand.

  17. Avatar Mei-Ling says:

    “And that day, all I was really looking for was some reassurance that I wasn’t guaranteed to make some child miserable just because I could never be biologically connected to them.”

    You are looking for the reassurance that love is enough in adoption.

    While I wouldn’t say adoption in itself equals a life of misery for any child, in a permanent state of forever, I do wonder if knowing that a child who has been given a ton of love and “the world” (metamorphically speaking) and whom still ends up not liking adoption, would be considered “enough.”

    That is to say, if the child dearly loves his/her parents, and the parents love that child to the end of the earth, yet all this love in the world is not enough to prevent the hurt caused by adoption, then is it still worth it?

    If you love your child more than life itself, and your child loves you just as much, yet your child does not like that the adoption had to happen in order for you to have become the parent… then would you still do it, knowing this?

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Mei- Ling, what an amazingly thoughtful and provocative question. I can’t speak for all adoptive parents, but I think it would be more than enough for most of us and we would jump at the chance to do it again. We are seeking a perfect child or a child without the scars of life. Truth be told, no person will get through life without events they wished had not happened; events that have scarred them. A fair number of parents come to adoption from the awful experience of infertility. They too are scarred. they too wish that they hadn’t had to endure that experience. In the end, most are reasonably happy well adjusted people and madly in love with the children they are parenting. All most of us want is to love and be loved and the privilege of helping a child deal with the hand he has been dealt.

      • Avatar Becky Jenkins says:

        My husband is a happy adoptee who found his birth family. They are wonderful people but live in Mayo, Ireland. He has never met them in person. He has made all my dreams come true and I want to help him make his come true also.

  18. Avatar Margie says:

    Adoptive mom here, to frame my comment.

    “How in the world did we get here folks? How in the name of all that is holy did we reach a point of such contention between adoptive parents and adopted persons? Both sides are guilty of “boxing”—placing the other side in a tight little box where we define the parameter.”

    I don’t think that that adopted persons are guilty of putting adoptive parents into any kind of box when it’s we adoptive parents, along with the adoption industry, who have set the expectations for their attitudes within a system that is unjust and frequently corrupt. Overly-positive mainstream attitudes toward adoption have served to squelch necessary critique of clearly unjust, even immoral, practices. We can talk all we want about it in forums and blogs, but pick up any newspaper and if adoption is there, it’s generally as a human interest story, rather than one of injustice or civil rights.

    One example: With so many state legislatures unwilling to overturn closed OBC laws, why shouldn’t we adoption practitioners and adoptive parents be somehow acknowledged for our failure? We are responsible for those laws, but we sure aren’t flocking to the legislatures to overturn them in the numbers necessary to force change.

    In such an environment, it seems to me that contention is a given, and rightfully so.

  19. Avatar Amanda says:

    Thank you for mentioning my blog and your kind words.

    One thing about “happy/angry adoptee” that is not mentioned in my linked blog entry is how very small of a box these labels put a person in. “happy/angry adoptee” says that “adoptee” encompasses the entire identity of who a person is and then says that this one-dimensional person is “angry” or “happy.” This just isn’t so.

    I am an adoptee. I am also a wife, mother, sister, student, and daughter. I am a person. I am a happy person. I am a well-adjusted person. I have positive relationships with those who are my families whether it be by nature, nuture, or law. I do not like being adopted. I am not a fan of adoption in-general.

    Now that I’ve labeled myself, I think others would be hard-pressed to find a box to shove me into to either reject or accept. This is, as you’ve suggested, why listening to adoptee narratives, what adoptees are really saying, is very important.

    Me not liking being adopted has nothing to do with thinking my life would have been better *here* and not *there*. It is because I have been involuntarily been put into a world of complex issues at a very young age. I was born to a traumatized young woman who deeply suffered from losing me to adoption. I was adopted by a couple who was suffering deeply from not bearing biological children and having the enormous family they had always dreamed of. I grew up with no genetic mirrors, no family medical history, and no ancestry to call my own. I am in a minority group that is unequal in the eyes of the law; a group that suffers immense stigma in society. I have dedicated myself to the uncomfortable work of appealing to society and legislators for change and hearing the same old, same old abortion comparisons, “be grateful,” and “you’re insulting your ‘real’ parents” nonsense, over and over again.

    I don’t like adoption because I think it is a flawed institution. It needs to be changed. While open adoption may assuage some of the problems we closed adoptees have spoken about, there’s little data about it, it stands to have its own unique issues, and some of the core issues that adoptees struggle with are identical.

    One’s decision to adopt should not be contingent upon the guarantee that the child will be in love with being adopted. If a child needs a home, a child needs a home. Providing for a child’s needs and allowing them to grow to have their own thoughts and opinions on their life’s circumstances is part of what being a parent is about. IMHO, the best thing someone can do is to support the rights and needs of children. Help mothers and children and families stay together whenever possible so that loss does not have to occur. And when loss does occur, love and cherish that dear child with all of your heart. No expectations; just love.

  20. Avatar Jess says:

    Great post! As a mom to children conceived via Donor sperm, I often have some of the same concerns as to how/what my children will perceive their lives as.

    It’s a great point to say that we all have our complaints, but they very often are taken out of context and misunderstood.

    Life in the White House

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Jess, I agree that the donor conceived community should be watching this discussion with great interest. The fact that you are tuned into the issue bodes well for your kids. 🙂

  21. Kristina-“intersting” is one way to put it. 🙂

  22. Avatar donna strayer says:

    I would like to comment from my perspective as a birthmother and adoption social worker. I feel that open adoption has made a world of difference for both birthmothers and adoptees. Of course it is not a perfect answer but in a perfect world there would not be adoptions because there would not be unplanned pregnancy, infertile couples, or moms that were just not ready to be parents. I placed my daughter in a time when open adoption was not an option. I was not forced to place my child but I felt that I was not ready to be a single parent and I knew that the birthfather would not be supportive – emotionally or financially so for me adoption was the best choice so that my daughter could be raised in a two parent family. I think many women from my generation were forced to place their child and then told not to think about it and adoptive parents were told to parent their child as if they had been born to them. Neither of these views make any sense and I can see why they created many unhappy and unhealthy situations. Adoptive parents were encouraged to not think about adoption and social workers tried to place similar looking children with families where they might be seen as a biological child. Imagine growing up in a family and not know that you were adopted. Of course, you would surmise that there must be a reason that this was kept a secret and most people would come to the conclusion that adoption was not a good thing if it were kept a secret. I have heard terrible stories of adult adoptees finding out after their parents died that they had been adopted. I can not begin to imagine how hurtful that must have felt for them. I personally was lucky to have a postive experience when my birthdaughter seached for me. Her adoptive mom was supportive of her decision to search and she has been most generous in welcoming into their family. I would probably never have searched because as much as I wanted desperately to know that my child had had a good life I felt that I made the decision to place her for adoption and if she wanted to meet me that would be her decision. I am thankful she chose to search and found me.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Donna, you raise a good point about the changing nature of adoption towards open adoption. It has changed much. However, there are still adoptions that are open in name only. Also, if identifying and contact information is not shared, as is the case in some adoptions, and the agency goes out of business, there is the danger that the information would be lost. Most international adoptions are still closed. So, the issues surrounding closed adoptions still exist in some cases.

  23. Sara – to fully understand the paradox of being an adoptee you have to live it and breathe it and you can’t do that. All you can do is be open to what it can be like.

    It is similar in context to how I can try to understand what it is like for my friend who lost her sight by wearing a blindfold for the day – and while I can experience it, at the same time “I know” I will see again as soon as I remove the blindfold. All I end up with is a mere shadow of understanding and in reality I won’t ever know what it is truly like for her to be blind for the rest of her life. What changes need to happen to make it better for people who have lost their sight and the ways I can help or champion her, is to support her and believe her when she says something needs to be done better. I can also let her be angry about it, and know she is still the same loving individual, and happy to be alive and living life at the same time.

  24. Avatar Sara says:

    Wow.  I have obviously touched on a very sensitive subject that I didn’t know enough about to address in the correct way.  I apologize to anyone I have offended by my tone or wording, it was not my intention at all.
    When my best friend was a child, every time her dad would see an opossum that had been hit by a car he’d say ‘look, there’s another opossum’.  She was in grade school before she realized an opossum was an animal, and not just a word meaning ‘red smear on the road’.  Now from the perspective of an adult, it’s easy to say ‘well that’s just silly’, but even as an adult if the only contact you have with something is one dimensional, it becomes easy, especially when you hit a low spot, to only see that dimension.
    I promise I do understand that adoptees are just people, and there are happy people, sad people, angry people, etc so obviously adoptees would fit into all of those categories at some time or another.  I never meant to imply otherwise.  Also, I totally get that unhappy people  need an outlet for their unhappiness and happy people don’t really feel the need to broadcast their happiness all over the place. But that day, I had read all of the comments on your South Korea article, and had spent some time looking through other adoption sites and over and over again had seen posts of ‘unhappy’ adoptees.  I realize it is making an assumption, but I have to assume most of them were adopted into reasonable loving and caring homes, so that was obviously not enough for them, they needed that biological/cultural connection and no matter how hard their parents tried, how much they loved them, there was never going to be a biological connection.  Add to that webpage after webpage of totally despondent birth families that felt they had had their children ‘ripped’ from them by the adoption process and all I really saw that day was a lot of people who felt they had had their lives destroyed by the adoption process.  There was even a comment that if we (wanna be adoptive parents) really wanted to help we should donate the monies that we would put towards adoption towards keeping a first family together. It was one dimensional of me, and I apologize.
    I feel very acutely that what I want most in life means someone else has to go through something that might well kill me if I had to go through it. And that day, all I was really looking for was some reassurance that I wasn’t guaranteed to make some child miserable just because I could never be biologically connected to them.  I didn’t mean to set off a firestorm.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Oh Sara, you didn’t set off a firestorm, and you certainly didn’t offend me. I am thankful for your honesty because I assure you that you are not the only adoptive parent that wonders the very same thing. Others just aren’t brave enough to write their true thoughts. Your question I think reflects a very real divide in our community. I can only speak to the adoptive parent/adoption educator side, but I do believe both sides share the blame for this division. I hope more adoptees will chime in with how they view this from their perspective.

      When I read certain adoption education materials, I think they go overboard presenting all the things that can go wrong. I think that approach is counter productive because it scares people needlessly. I understand, however, that the intent is to counter balance the “adoption is all heart and butterflies” crowd. I wonder if perhaps what we read from some of the adult adoptees that are active in the adoption community isn’t a similar attempt to counter balance.

  25. Avatar Jenna says:

    So glad you addressed this, Dawn.

    I struggled a lot with the same questions after reading a lot of birth mom/adoptee perspectives. As an adoptive mom, I can say that I know my son is where he needs to be and that I’m grateful to have him in my life. I do wish there wasn’t a need for adoption to begin with, because doesn’t every person deserve to be born with an uncomplicated life? I look at my son right now and see that he is so happy, and it snags at my heart to know there might be a time when he struggles with serious adoption and abandonment topics that were a part of his history before he was even born. I want him to always be happy, and it’s hard to know that he may have to work through all of this someday.

    But we’re not there yet. I can’t predict how my son will feel in the future. All I can do as a parent is be in the present, educate myself, listen to others who have been in his shoes, be honest and open with him, and always support him when he needs it. And love him to pieces, but that goes without saying. 🙂

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      All adopted persons do not struggle with “serious” adoption and abandonment issues. I’ve interviewed/talked with many many adult adoptees and some do, but from my limited and non scientifically selected sample, most don’t. I do think adoption adds a complexity to life and presents issues to come to term with and I understand what you mean about wanting to protect our kids from any sadness, grief, or hassle.

      I also think that many things in life add complexity, such as being raised by a poor single mother, being the child of divorce, having learning disabilities, having a parent with a drinking problem. The research is pretty dismal on the mental health outcomes of children of single mothers, divorced parents, and alcoholics, but this doesn’t mean all kids in these situations are doomed. I think it is important to realize that adoption is only one of many “complex situations” children are raised in.

  26. Avatar St. Elsewhere says:

    Learnt so much from this post……..


  27. Avatar Jenna says:

    Yep, I completely agree. Didn’t mean to come across so gloom and doom. 🙂 Just want to be prepared in case he does, but he’s his own person and he may not be effected at all.

    And of course there are so many different things that could make a child’s life complicated. I think that as a mom, you just want your child to live a happy life and you don’t ever want to see them struggle. But like you said, it may never be an issue to begin with.:-)

  28. Avatar Tammy says:

    I think in adoption, just as in most things in life, there is always something to feel frustrated or “unhappy” about, no matter where you are in the triad. As an adoptive parent, I know my son went through various traumas before I adopted him. Some of the traumas I am aware of and some I will never know about. I would give anything to know and understand his entire history because I am the one dealing with the fall out. But, at least for now, I have to live with what I know and parent him as best I can with the information I have.

    There are always things you wish could be different. I wish I didn’t have to go into debt to become a parent. I wish I would have more information with my son’s birth father. I wish I would have been more patient with the process and trusted it to work out exactly the way it would. I wish I wasn’t dependent on other people to become a parent.

    I could go on and on and I’m sure birth families and adoptees could do the same. Does that mean I regret adopting? Absolutely not and in fact I am in the process of adopting again. As you said, one can have negative feelings about something but that doesn’t mean you would necessarily change the outcome. It just means some things in life are hard. Plain and simple. I think we have to get comfortable with accepting that idea and move beyond the idea that everything in life is meant to easy and happy. I guarantee any mother who gives birth would be happy to skip the labor and delivery part of the program. Does that make her ungrateful to be pregnant or to have a baby? So why is adoption any different? We can dislike and be hurt by certain parts of adoption but still be content and happy with the overall outcome.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      So very very true. Most first mothers that I talk with say some variation on the above. They very much regret having to be in the position where they felt like their best decision at that time was to place their child from adoption. Some regret the decision itself feeling that if they had kept the child things would have eventually improved , but many just regret that they were in the position where adoption was their best option. I am sure that they are angry at times too.

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