November is National Adoption Month. Along with church observations of Orphan Sunday and the newly founded World Adoption Day, this is a time when adoptive parents talk, tweet, and blog to share their experiences and celebrate the families they’ve grown through adoption.
You’d think that this kind of public campaign promoting adoption would be something that gets adoptees like me excited. Instead, I find myself feeling ambivalent. Too often, parents’ voices dominate the adoption conversation, both in society overall and in American evangelicalism. Their generally positive narratives—stories of welcoming happy kids with open arms, of fulfilling a biblical call to care for orphans— often downplay the complexities of adoption and the viewpoints of the children involved.
In response to National Adoption Month, adult adoptees started a social media campaign (#FlipTheScript) to incorporate their first-person perspectives. It is our hope that by telling our stories, more people will consider the complicating factors in adoption—not to discourage adoption, but to truthfully present the dual realities adoptees are forced to live within. For example, one adoptee wrote of her birth mother and her adoptive mother: “I love both of my mothers. Just like how parents can love more than one child. Neither love can be measured.” Lost Daughters, a writing group featuring the perspectives of adoptees, spoke to the importance of sharing their stories in this short video about the #FlipTheScript campaign.
I believe incorporating adoptees’ stories can also help balance the discourse around adoption for Christians, too. We can do more to recognize that tragedy is inherent within adoption. Even when an adoption plan is the best option for an adoptee, having a “better” family does not negate our complex feelings for our first families. I feel compelled to address some of the uplifting narratives and clichéd phrases I hear in Christian circles—and challenge us to think not only what they say to the world about adoption, but how they can come across to adoptees themselves.
Characterization of Birth Parents
Adoptive parents seek to communicate the love they feel for their children almost instantaneously. They want to put words around a relationship that was not formed by flesh and blood and to position their kids as part of their family, even if they haven’t been there since birth. I hear parents use lines like “you were born from her tummy, but grew in our hearts.” This idea can oversimplify the relationship adoptees have with their birth parents and adoptive parents; in fact, they pit their roles up against each other. At worst, our language can imply a commodification of the birth mother and create flat characterization of parents who choose adoption for their kids.
After 25 years of wondering about my birth mother, I recently reunited with her and found out more about the reasons behind my adoption—a story I share in a documentary entitled Closure. Despite a common instinct to minimize the role of the birth mother and focus on the love of new, adoptive parents, I learned my birth mother continued to love me and carry concern for me, even after I was placed in foster care. I continued to “grow” in her heart over the years, too; our relationship wasn’t confined to her gestation.
Conflation with God’s Adoption
When I began working at a faith-based adoption agency, I heard many prospective parents with this rationale: Through Jesus, we were all adopted in to God’s family, so that’s why we are choosing to adopt.
Deanna Doss Shrodes, an adoptee and a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God, addressed this conception of adoption. She wrote, “Saying, ‘So you're adopted? No big deal...we're all adopted!’ minimizes the very real struggle many adoptees go through.” The theological conception of adoption doesn’t fully conflate with our earthly experience as adoptees. Christians can’t identify with or assume they understand the emotional state of adoptees just because their faith also uses the language of adoption.
Yet, I can see how Christians might be motivated by their faith to adopt. The Christian adoption movement has clung tightly to Bible verses like James 1:27: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
As an adoptee, I read this biblical call to be an assertion toward family preservation, rather than an admonishment for Christians to adopt children and support the separation from their first family. (Slowly, more Christians are recognizing some of this nuance and trying to care for orphans through family preservation, or “orphan prevention,” rather than pushing adoption as the first solution.)
Focus on Being ‘Chosen’
In the church, we love to celebrate the language around being chosen and being adopted. I heard one pastor excitedly put it this way: "Adoption means you were chosen. God chose you! God wanted you! Don't walk around feeling rejected. You are adopted."
Amanda Woolston, an adoptee and a psychotherapist, said this word stings. “Chosen for what? To live this life? Why me? Out of all these other hypothetical children? I was the child available. And what's so great about painting a picture of my parents sorting through kids like they're shopping?”
We expect being chosen to be a pinnacle point of acceptance and happiness, but it doesn’t always feel this way for adoptees, whose “happy endings” still put them in a position of internal struggle. The adoptee community has mourned the losses of too many adoptees due to suicide this year, some of these losses stemming from an inability to speak truthfully about their feelings without hurting or betraying their adoptive parents.
I view adoption to be a necessary solution to an unfortunate need. It’s a tragic situation for one family (birthparents) while simultaneously offering great joy for another (adoptive parents). Adoptees sit between the two.
We can recognize the tension of their position, and the role of adoption in our communities, when we listen to adoptees. Their stories grieve and mourn the loss of their first family, celebrate their adoptive family, and everything in between. The complex truth of modern-day adoption reminds me of these words from the Franciscan Benediction:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships—so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people—so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war—so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world—so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor
Angela Tucker is a transracial adoptee and the subject of the documentary, Closure. Angela’s unique worldview, passion for humanity and justice combined with her education and work experience in the social work field combine to form powerful and engaging presentations around white privilege, micro-agressions and openness in transracial adoption. Angela’s story has been featured in Huffington Post, Slate, The Daily Kos, Adoption.com, and other publications. She blogs at theadoptedlife.com.