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“You Can’t Be Adopted, You’re Normal.”

“What did your friends do when you were little that you weren’t willing to do?”

Innocent enough question drawn from a pile of “get-to-know-you” questions.

“When we were little kids, my friends used to hide in the clothes racks at Nordstrom,” one 17-year-old said. “I never did. I stayed right by my mom because I wondered if she would leave me like my “first mom” had. I was adopted.”

“You were adopted?” one of the student moderators asked suspiciously.

“Yeah,” the girl said.

“Well,” the moderator defended himself. “You don’t seem. . .”

“Don’t seem what?” the girl said. “We don’t exactly look different.”

“That’s ridiculous,” originally we thought the speaker was commenting on adoptees looking different. Instead, he was referring back to the young girl’s fear of being left at a department store. “They adopted you on purpose. They weren’t going to leave you.”

The conversation was happening amongst twenty students gathered for the “getting to know you” opening session of a leadership conference. As they got to know each other, it was discovered six of the students had been adopted. Eventually, I asked all of the adopted teens at what age they had been adopted. All of them before six months old. All of them showed immense affection for their adoptive families. All of them came from upper middle class, an income bracket of most of the students since the qualifications for the conference normally drew from a higher, more educated demographic.

Adoption caught their imagination.

“Did your adoptive parents ever say anything that made you feel that way?” another attendee asked the girl who refused to hide with her friends during shopping trips.

“No,” admitted the young woman. “I think it was what other kids said.”

“Like what?”

The adopted students remembered elementary years punctuated by statements such as the following:

  • “Can your real parents come get you back?”

  • “Do you ever talk to your real mom and dad?”

  • “If your parents get divorced, will you go back to your real parents?”

  • “I’m glad my mom didn’t give me away.”

Participants in the discussion also recalled things they had overheard which brought into question the value of an adopted child.

  • “Can you give him back if he develops learning disabilities?”

  • “You’re lucky. She looks like she could actually be yours.”

  • “Maybe now you’ll get pregnant and have one of your own.”

  • “Weren’t you scared of what you might get?”

  • “I would have just gotten a dog. That would have been so much easier.”

  • “If God had wanted you to have children, you would have given birth to one.”

  • “Adoption is expensive. Was she worth it?”

“And,” the original speaker said forcefully, “You couldn’t believe I was adopted because I’m, what, normal.”

The most compelling memory was a statement made recently in a civics class. The class was discussing the upcoming election and the candidates’ stance on abortion. Someone in the class commented that abortion and adoption are very different, but they have one thing in common. “They are both great ways to get rid of children.”

Recognize these real traumas come to adoptees in the best of circumstances. Most of these kids had learned to laugh it off. Just make sure you validate that these slights can hurt.