There is no shortage of assistance available for adoptive parents. Books, Web sites, parenting classes... you name it, the amount of information is staggering. But when adult adoptees (or first mothers and fathers) look for help, there is precious little information, if any.
Take, for example, the dilemma I faced this past week. My first-grade daughter came home with, yes, the dreaded family tree assignment. I knew this would come up eventually but I wasn't prepared for it for another few years at least. The assignment was given Monday and due Friday, leaving me scant time to figure out what to do. Because, while my daughter isn't adopted, I am. And the same sealed records laws that prevent me from obtaining my own heritage also keep my children in the dark.
By most accounts, the family tree assignment is obsolete. It assumes all families follow the stereotypical 1950s-era "nuclear family" pattern. In this age of divorce, remarriage, adoption, donor conception, etc. there are any number of ways in which such an assignment is a major FAIL. But that didn't give me any answers for my daughter. This situation strikes me as yet another example of the fact that no one thinks about what happens when adoptees grow up. For us there are no books, Web sites, or helpful classes. When was the last time you saw a class at an adoption agency such as "Adult Adoptees 101: What To Put On Medical Forms" or "Explaining To The Non-Adopted Why Being Called An 'Adopted Child' Is Insulting." The obvious answer, of course, is to restore access to our original birth certificates and start treating us like "normal" people instead of second-class citizens. (Oh, and get rid of the family tree assignment, while we're at it). But in reality we are left on our own to muddle through it as best we can.
I reached out to my friends, within the adoption community and outside it, for help with my daughter's assignment. Fortunately my adoptee friends came to the rescue, explaining how they'd handled similar situations and offering advice and resources. (Thank you, everyone!) But most of the available resources are written by and for adoptive parents. That may help parents and educators be more sensitive to families with adopted children, but how to increase sensitivity toward families that include ADULT adoptees?
My friends not connected to adoption generally fell into two categories: "What's the big deal?" and "Just write down your adoptive family." To answer the first, of course it's a big deal. In fact, it's the biggest deal there is. Heritage and origins is basic to our very being. People who have this information take it so for granted that they can't fathom not having it. As I've mentioned before, it's beyond difficult explaining to the general public that no, adoptees can't just walk into the courthouse to get our information and yes, we should have the same access to our origins as everyone else. Now my children are facing the consequences of a decision that was taken out of their hands, and mine, before any of us were even born. They are not adopted. They should not have to deal with adoption... and yet they do, and so will their children.
As for the second part, "just write down your adoptive family," that's fraught with problems too. Even if I had a fantastic relationship with my adoptive family, doing so feels to me like perpetuating the same lie that is on my amended birth certificate. I was NOT born to the people listed there. I was born to my first mother and my unknown father. The fact that my first mother wants no contact doesn't change that. The fact that my father apparently doesn't know I exist doesn't change it either. They are the genetic forebears of myself and my children. As it happens I do not have a good relationship with my adoptive family. (The fact that some people think that automatically disqualifies anything negative I happen to say about adoption is a whole 'nother matter.) To put my adoptive family's names on my daughter's family tree, to perpetuate the lies, advances the illusion that adoptees can simply be dumped anywhere with no consequences. But adoption does have consequences, and those consequences last for generations.
I've written before about the difficulties adoptees have becoming parents themselves, especially parents by biology. Imagine the first blood relative you've ever known and it's your own child. That is too messed up for words. As my children grow older I find such difficulties only increase. Sometimes I feel like we are floating alone on a raft in the ocean. There are no maps to where we need to go, no rescue boats coming along to help us. We have to face each wave, each challenge, on our own. (With big TV choppers circling us, displaying banners that say "Why aren't you grateful to be adopted?" and "Stop making waves!")
As for the family tree assignment, here are the best resources I could find, especially the first link (a PDF).
Again, these are specific to adopted children in the classroom, but can be extrapolated to children with parents who were adopted. At least, I think they can be, but I'm too close to adoption to see it the same way the general public does. I'm not sure my daughter's teacher really understood my concerns, or the problem. She was sympathetic, but the vibe I got was that she found the whole situation confusing.
And that really sums it up, doesn't it? We adult adoptees are so invisible to society, people have no idea how to react to our concerns or issues.
In the end, my daughter put down "unknown" for her maternal grandparents, and I had flashbacks to all those times in doctors' offices, writing down "unknown--adopted" on medical forms. She is confused as to why I can't give her this information, although she's familiar with the fact that I'm adopted and that her maternal grandmother chooses not to have contact with us. But, explain adoption politics to a first grader. She doesn't understand why the law prevents us from knowing. She tells me that makes no sense, and I agree with her.
It's so basic even a first grader can understand. Why can't other people?