The adoption of a child is a very complicated process to fully comprehend; unless you’ve lived through one, you probably don’t fully understand. The adoption process is said to be a triad of participants: birth parents, adoptees, and adopted parents. But I believe adoption is a combination of far more. Every person, adoptee or otherwise, is molded by their immediate and extended family, their broader community and its belief systems, and myriad other factors too numerous to name. On my podcast, Who Am I Really? (www.WhoAmIReallypodcast.com), I’ve spoken to dozens of adoptees about their experiences in adoption and their attempts to reunite with their biological family members.
On the show I’ve learned there are countless complicating factors in every person’s life and adoption as a life’s journey takes on many forms. My podcast guests talk about the ways their adoptive parents tried to make sure they felt comfortable with their adoption. Some parents buy books on the subject to read with their children, explaining that they are loved and attempting to make them feel special for being chosen for adoption. Often, adopted children do feel comforted that they were special enough to be chosen, but sometimes they wonder why they weren’t special enough to be kept and raised by their own parents.
Guests have shared stories of transracial adoptions, in which parents of one race adopt a child from another race. I’ve heard tales of people adopted into certain global cultures or religions who feel very little connection to that upbringing, always sensing that they were someone else deep inside. Others feel a different kind of disconnect from their adoptive family, like being an artistic, free-spirited, creative person in a family of rule-following straight arrows. Some people have said they felt extroverted in an introverted family, or they just saw the world differently than their adoptive parents and siblings. Sometimes the differences are physical, like skin tone or height and weight. But one of the worst scenarios for other adoptees is having unsupportive, even abusive adoptive parents who overtly or intentionally reminded the adoptee that they were the biological child of someone else.
Searching for our relatives is an adventure unto itself. I’ve heard amazing tales of people’s searches for their first family back in pre-internet days. Those stories are amazing to me, as adoptees recount the true detective work they had to do. They share tales of numerous appeals to the court system to release their documents, diligent, even desperate, searches through library archives for clues, or tracking down phone numbers for people they hope are the family members they’re seeking.
Today, technology allows a new generation of adoptees to connect more quickly and locate clues more easily than ever before. Reunion registries allow people to broadcast their search to anyone who will listen online; vast networks of “Search Angels” are volunteering to aid a person’s investigation, because they know how important it is for some adoptees to reconnect with family members. Social networks like Facebook make it easy to search for people yourself on lunch breaks and after hours, allowing adoptees to peek into the personality—or even see a photo—of someone they have a connection to. Even more incredibly, the proliferation of commercialized DNA testing companies, like AncestryDNA and 23andMe, are giving adoptees scientific proof of their biological connection to distant relatives—or directly to their birth parents.
Finally, the reunion itself can be a harrowing experience. Some people are welcomed by one or both birth parents who’ve remembered that person’s life ever since their child was sent off into the world. Others are summarily rejected by parents who feel that they dealt with that chapter of their life years ago and are appalled—even offended—that the adoptee would step forward and reopen that chapter; they’ve moved on. Still others embark on the journey to find their birth parents only to learn that they’re deceased. Some adoptees have a strong feeling their parent is already gone, even before they learn the facts; others learn their parent passed away very recently, making the pain at the end of their search more acute, because they just barely missed meeting their loved one. Of course, sometimes there are new sibling relationships to navigate as well. Some adoptees learn their biological parents stayed together after their adoption, and they have full-blood siblings. Sometimes, a person has half siblings, some of whom are eager to meet them, and others who want nothing to do with them.
There are components of the adoption journey that I haven’t even touched on here. Social workers, foster families, biological relatives and other influencers are huge parts of the adoption constellation. Of course, every birth parent also has their own full story to tell about why and how an adoption plan was made for their child.
Furthermore, adoptees also have to navigate the feelings of their adopted parents about their desire to search, making sure they know they’re not being replaced, the search is purely a quest for answers.
That nagging curiosity is often the catalyst for an adoptee’s search for their first family. If you’re not adopted, try to imagine for yourself that you’ve been told you’re directly related to other parents and siblings whom you don’t know. It’s almost inevitable that you would develop a curiosity about who those people could be. We’re curious about birth parents’ personalities and physical traits, and which pieces of ourselves we inherited from them. Adoptees are hungry for information about their medical history and the mysteries contained within. For any person battling a hereditary chronic illness, or caring for a loved one who is, you understand the dire importance of having as much information as possible, like family health history.
I’ve shared these scenarios to introduce the adoption experience, at the highest level, and to help anyone who is not directly impacted by adoption to empathize with adoptees. I’ve lived two of the three sides of the triad. I’m an adoptee and an adoptive parent, so I know the triumphs and struggles of adoption all too well. I hope, that after learning my story, adoptees will feel inspiration for the possibilities of their own reunions, even in the face of adversity.
Reading my journey, I want adoptive parents to understand some of the love, gratitude, and consideration an adoptee might have for them as their parents. I hope they will appreciate hearing the inner thoughts an adoptee might have when considering reunion with birth parents. My hope is that birth parents will also understand some of the thoughts and emotions that an adoptee contemplates and experiences when we consider reunion with you, and what we feel in the aftermath of learning facts about our adoption or our natural family tree.
I’ve been so lucky to research the lives of my biological parents’ and adopted parents’ during the years before my adoption. It put the path of my life, culminating in our reunions, into perspective. I want to thank: Veronica’s sister Bonnie Akins; Willie’s lifelong friend Waymon Guinn; my biological cousins Mary Ann Dussent and Marla Owens; Ann’s lifelong friend Schelley Kiah; Ann’s graduate school friend Sharon Holley; and Christine Owens Boone for their recollections of the past. I also want to thank my family and friends for supporting me throughout my journey to this point in my life. I love you all, more than you know.
As I write this “Who Am I Really?’ is approaching 100 adoptees who will have shared their journeys on the show. I’ve been humbled by the trust others have placed in me to help share their personal stories. Now it’s my turn.
This is for Seth, and everyone who follows him…
Damon L. Davis is the Host/Producer of the “Who Am I Really?” podcast, stories of adoption and attempts at reunion as told by the adoptees themselves.