When reading Somebody’s Child, an un-put-downable collection of 25 short personal stories on adoption, I was unexpectedly struck by Beth Grosart’s Abandoned but Loved. Unexpected because on the surface, it has nothing in common with our local, open adoption.
Beth was a well-adjusted, happy 26-year-old when her parents took her to visit the Korean orphanage she was adopted from. Since she was girl, her parents had told her a heartwarming narrative about how she flew half way around the world as a baby to join her family in the US, and how her birthmother loved her so much, she wanted to give a better life .
When they arrive at the orphanage, an administrator looks her up in a book and says out loud that Beth was “abandoned by her mother at the hospital in 1982.” The word abandoned shocks and stuns her. She feels devastated and confused realizing that her birthmother did not lovingly place her for adoption like she’d heard all her life. Beth can’t regain her composure. She feels a hole open up inside her but doesn’t say anything and blindly follows her parents around the orphanage feeling shattered.
I’ve always disliked the word abandoned just like I dislike the word unwanted in relation to adoption. Whenever I hear it, I think that a mother (or father) at her wits end, was so desperate, the only thing she can think to do was leave the baby on the orphanage steps, at a hospital or police station or roadside where the baby will be found. Even local stories of babies in left in dumpsters or bathrooms point to a person without hope, without means, who acted out of fear and desperation. To me, it doesn’t mean they did not, or could not, care, love or wish a healthy future for their baby.
But what I learned from the story is that sugarcoating our children’s beginnings does not serve them well in the long run. If you know something about your child’s history that is uncomfortable, at some point, you need to tell them, so they can grieve it, accept it, and move from there. The worst thing is for them to find out later and feel duped.
Now, that’s easy for me to say given we don’t have a difficult history to contend with but I have grappled with how to explain his adoption to Theo. First off all, part of me wants to keep him in this toddler cocoon where he only thinks of us as his parents. I also want to use the right words. I don’t want to say, “Your birthparents were too young” (What? Young people can’t be parents?). I don’t want to say, “They placed you for adoption because they loved you.” (If they loved me, why did they place me for adoption?). Nor do I want to use the “better life line,” which leads to all kinds of questions. But I do know that when the time comes, I will start by telling Theo that his birthparents made a brave and difficult decision to find him a couple who were ready and able to be his parents, and that all of us love him very much.
Somebody’s Child, Stories about Adoption (TouchWood Editions) was edited by Bruce Gillespie and Lynne Van Luven.
Recommended reading: Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child: Making Sense of the Past
How have you approached talking about adoption or difficult information with your children?