Some thoughts on wishing that I hadn’t been adopted.

I wrote this last night but didn’t publish it because it really wasn’t going where I wanted to go. There really is a point I want to make about what it means to say that adoption isn’t a good thing, and to wish that one had not been adopted; and that for adoptees, saying these things does not necessarily mean that we hate our lives or we had bad childhoods or we think our natural parents would have done a better job (the standard “adoptee disclaimer”, i.e., “I am not an ungrateful bastard.”)

The following text wound up going in a somewhat different direction and I decided to abandon it and start over, but after a night’s sleep I think the direction it goes in is still interesting and worth thinking about, so I’m publishing it mostly as is, with a little commentary added to the end, in the hope that it will provoke some interesting discussion. Or maybe it’s just that as an adoptee I can’t bring myself to abandon anything I’ve created. (That was a little bit of adoptee humor, for those of you just tuning in.)

Suppose you have a big pile of coconuts. More coconuts than you can really see yourself eating before they start to go bad, however that works for coconuts. Okay, you can tell already that we buy the bags of shredded coconut. We had a coconut in the refrigerator for a while but we weren’t sure what to do with it and it just sat until we eventually became afraid of it and threw it away.

Anyhow, suppose you have a big old mess of coconuts and your friend has a big pile of papayas, more than he or she will ever be able to eat before they rot. Furthermore, you and your friend are concerned about the lack of variety in your diets (being 100% coconuts or papayas, respectively). The solution is obvious. You trade half for half.

What’s interesting about this is the outcome: the total amount of coconuts and papayas between the two of you has remained unchanged, but the result of this redistribution is that both of you are better off than you were before. This is called trade and its conduct rests crucially on the idea that, at least ostensibly, everyone involved in any given transaction benefits from it.

I have been thinking a great deal about my realization the other night that I wish I had not been adopted, and exactly what that means. No, this is not going to be some kind of adoptee disclaimer-fest, or at least that is not the intention. I have been trying to distill this very broad and vague wish down to a specific, imagined outcome, so I can understand better what I feel that I am missing in my own life, and I am pretty sure it has something to do with the coconuts and papayas described above.

In fact, the “disclaimers” I wrote in that entry weren’t really meant as disclaimers at all. I just wanted it to be clear that I was knowingly saying that, no matter how much adoption may have “benefitted” me, I still wish it hadn’t happened. These papayas have been great and all but I sure do wish I had all my coconuts back.

In the simple trade example, each party had a surplus and each party had a need, and those matched perfectly. But suppose the coconut crop had failed and you had absolutely nothing to trade your friend with the papayas. In fact, you are looking at starvation. However, you do have a nice hut, which your friend could use for storing all those surplus papayas. Also, your friend is really a bit of an asshole so charity and credit are not options. You’re faced with starving to death in your hut or being homeless but fed. So you “trade” your hut for the papayas, but saying that you benefitted from the transaction really misses the point that you are actually just not as screwed as you would have been otherwise.

Does saying, “I wish I still had my hut,” mean that you would rather starve than be homeless? And does saying it after you’ve been eating the papayas long enough to get your coconut crop going again make you an ungrateful whiner? Is there something wrong with you because you can’t help cringing every time you hear your friend talk about how great the new “papaya storage shack” is, while you’re still sleeping in a thicket or something?

This was where I realized I had invested too much into this coconuts and papayas metaphor. While it does seem to work for explaining that adoption is not just the reallocation of surplus goods (which really does seem to be the way some people think of it, though of course they wouldn’t say so if you asked them directly), it doesn’t quite make the point I wanted to make. So screw metaphors, I’ll just spell it out:

Every single instance of happy adoptive parents joyfully receiving an adopted child has at least one corresponding tragedy. There is no way you can avoid this fact. Even the hypothetical (or at least apocryphal) case of a mother genuinely glad to relinquish her child is itself a tragedy. A child growing up thinking that he was not wanted by the woman who gave birth to him, or was wanted but given up when the choice was between him and something or someone else, or was born to a mom who really couldn’t take care of him but wanted him and misses him every day, is undeniably always a tragedy. Or if it’s not undeniably always a tragedy, then I would really like to see someone deny it.

(Note: I recognize that “generic he” is not really generic, but “he or she” or even “they” did not work well here, and while I am speaking about any adopted child, I am also speaking about myself when I was a child.)

Now we’re getting back to what I really wanted to say about what it means for an adoptee to wish that she or he had not been adopted, or at least for me to do so. I will continue this in another post without coconuts or papayas.

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6 Responses to “Some thoughts on wishing that I hadn’t been adopted.”


  1. 1 Slava Bogu June 15, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    You are absolutely right that every adoption is the result of some tragedy…whether that be the death of a parent (s), poverty, immoral behavior and its consequences (like being too drugged up to parent), or just not wishing to be a parent. I can’t imagine what adoptees wrestle with in this regard. Yet, in the face of senseless tragedy, it is right to find the best solution. My father has a friend whose teenage daughter is going through a horrible struggle with cancer. Knowing she still has a great risk of death, she chose to amputate her leg rather than end life, because she desired life with difficulty over no life at all.

    Yes, adoption involves tragedy, and that cannot be overlooked. At the same time, adoption can bring joy where there was none before. Adoption can bring sustenance and family and memories and a place to fit and care and love. I believe God desires this good. In our sin, He adopted us. I do not believe God desires people to sin…whether that be the birth parents or the government who creates hopeless poverty, but He chooses to bring good out of the situation.

    The love I feel for our children is deep and strong. That does not mitigate the pain my children have and/or will face, but I trust that it will give them hope and the knowledge that they are precious and loved and valuable and chosen.

    I hope you find peace in this internal struggle you face.

  2. 2 justenjoyhim June 15, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    Of course it’s true — our joy at becoming adoptive parents is at our son’s mother’s great loss. This is the immense paradox of adoption. And at his loss of not being with his first mother. I say this not out of a sense of guilt, but as a statement of fact that adoptive parents gain the most from adoption. It’s simply the way it is. Adoptees and first parents lose the most.

    To recognize that is I’m sure very difficult. I hope that my husband and I can help our son process his feelings about the losses he will face from adoption and that he’ll feel he’s able to come to us with those feelings. Because I don’t see them as disloyal to us as his parents, but simply as natural feelings stemming from an immense loss very early in his life, a loss that he had no part in choosing.

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts and feelings with us.

  3. 3 Mark Diebel June 15, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    I wonder if anyone who wished that he had been adopted or pretended that he was adopted feels that he has anything to explain or apologize for thinking?

    Why is it strange at all to wish that one had not been adopted? It (adoption) places a burden on another family. It arises in from situation that involves suffering and pain for some (at least) one. In coming to awareness about things in one’s history there can be surprise and once again pain.

    It should be common sense…. but I guess it isn’t. The burden shouldn’t be on you to explain a thing.

  4. 4 Sue June 16, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Thanks for this metaphor. All metaphors have their limits but this one is really illuminating.

  5. 5 Julie June 16, 2007 at 5:59 am

    What is sad is that most of the tragedies that create the need for adoption are ignored because adoption is (for those who benefit most) such a fabuloso deal. Let’s not forget that there is a world of people outside those two who have the coconuts and the papayas, a world which seems to have lost its humanity.

  6. 6 Valentina July 5, 2007 at 9:02 am

    I was starting to laugh when I reached these words: “This was where I realized I had invested too much into this coconuts and papayas metaphor.” Whew!

    Off to look for your continuation, and yes, it’s a tragedy when any child loses hir parents, even if said parents are mentally ill, abusive, neglectful, addicted, dead, not possessing the societally approved age, income, marital status, or whatever. There’s a tragedy and a loss, even when there may be a gain.


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