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First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Your Adoption Stories
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Scroll down for the latest in our ongoing series on the trials, tribulations, and joys of adoption. Email your own story, perspective, or disagreement to hello@theatlantic.com.

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This reader’s story of building a family has a dramatic series of ups and downs:

At first I wanted to be silent about my story, but I realized I want to live my truth out in the open. And if I speak up, it might help other families that are struggling in a similar way.

In 2004, I had an unplanned pregnancy and did not want to have children. I was going to a Bioengineering Ph.D. program in Hawaii after my graduation and also getting divorced from my first Russian husband (I am Russian too). So I considered terminating my pregnancy.

Luckily, I decided to keep my baby, and now I have a loving and musically talented 11-year-old son. But I had to give up Hawaii, choosing to become a single working mom (though my degree in biochemistry helped). I always felt guilty that I almost chose to end his life. That is how I became pro-life.

I re-married in 2008 and had two biological children, followed by a miscarriage. I wanted to adopt and was devastated when our adoption did not work out. It is a long and very painful story in itself—one that others judge me for, and some of my friends became my enemies.

Below is an excerpt from that blog post, which chronicles her agonizing process of un-adopting a pair of destitute and deeply traumatized—and traumatizing— young kids:

[My adopted daughter] constantly pushed her boundaries and challenged my authority. She pooped and peed on the floor, destroyed her toys and made holes in her clothes with teeth. She seemed to thrive on chaos and our family’s unhappiness.

Being an intelligent and social little girl, she was getting a lot of attention from strangers, and without any reservation, she would hop on their lap or kiss them. I explained to her that those behaviors are not safe and appropriate, but she continued doing it just to make me angry.

I also noticed that my daughter started hurting my baby behind my back. Once I was in a different room and heard strange noises, and when I walked into the living room, I saw her covering the baby’s mouth and nose. After that, I always carried my baby in a carrier on my chest.

Read the whole story here. (If you have your own experience with a failed adoption you’d like to share, please let us know.) Back to the embryo adoption:

After my failed adoption and miscarriage, and witnessing my father’s death, I was in a very dark place. We tried to have a biological baby again, but I was not conceiving—probably due to all the stress and grief. I went to a fertility clinic and was given a few options.

I chose embryo adoption for multiple reasons. A year after our traditional adoption failed, I wanted another child, and embryo adoption gave us a chance to adopt again but avoid the trauma of mother-child separation from a traditional adoption—which clearly did not work for us.

I did not consider egg donation because my goal was different; I wanted to adopt an embryo that was already created. There are more than a million embryos in storage in this country and, of course, there are ethical questions as what to do with them. I believe that frozen embryos are alive and have a human potential. So my solution would be: Fertilize only as many eggs as women want to transfer and keep the rest frozen. After all, it is a lot less ethically problematic to discard non-fertilized eggs than embryos. (Though yes, it might lead to a lower success rate of pregnancy.)

I chose an anonymous adoption, and the embryo had been frozen for a little less than four years. I am very happy with my decision; I felt it was “meant to be.”

Two of our readers have adopted five children each—and counting. Here’s Kristina:

Since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a foster parent some day. I have fostered around 15 children and adopted 5. I currently have my 5, plus 2 foster children.

I have never given birth, never wanted to, and never plan to. I built a wonderful family, through the sad loss of other families. It’s difficult to celebrate sometimes, knowing the loss each child and their family endured to bring them to me.  

My children are all from local families, within my own city. They came from families with mental, emotional, and substance problems, and the illnesses that made their first parents unable to care for them are part of a bigger social problem that is taking over our country. We are disconnected. As a society, we are too disconnected. Drug and alcohol addiction is a symptom of this every increasing disconnect.

As I was granted my most recent adoption and sat with my son’s birth father, seeing how ill he was, all I felt was concern, caring, worry. I worried that this man would not get better. I worried that we would be attending his funeral long before their grandparents. This man was not a bad person. He was just sick. I hugged him. I thanked his mother. I told them I hoped he got better soon. I meant every word. Their willingness to not fight our adoption allowed me to spend the rest of their lives being the boy’s mother.

My son walked in the day after the papers were signed and said, “I’m YOUR son, mom.”

We celebrate daily in our own little ways, but I must never forget the loss that brought my children to me. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me humble. It gives me grace.

Here’s the other saint, Leslie:

We have adopted five kids (only two biologically related to each other) from foster care, at ages ranging from 8 to 14. They are now 25 to almost 47, and the older four are all functioning adult members of society, maintaining relationships, holding jobs, and raising their own kids—outcomes they assure me have a lot to do with having been adopted by us. All of them have some degree of fetal alcohol issues, as well as histories of abuse, neglect, and, in one case, a previous failed adoption.

Our long-running reader series continues with a heartbreaking account from a woman who was adopted at birth in the late ’60s and never reconciled with that:

I always knew I was adopted and it haunted me—perhaps because I had such a bad relationship with my mother, or perhaps because I KNEW something of my birth family. I knew I had siblings. (I was an only child in my adopted family.) I knew that there were people out there I was connected to but didn’t know. I was obsessed with this knowledge and it ate at me.

When I turned 20, my adopted mother asked if I wanted to meet my birth family. Well, of COURSE I did. I wanted to know why. I wanted to know THEM.

So they arranged a meeting. Afterwards, my adopted mother was horrified that I still had a desire to stay in contact with my birth family. She thought I would just meet them, get answers to all my questions and walk away. It drove a bigger wedge between my adopted parents and me.

Over the years, I rarely saw my birth family, out of respect for my adopted family. But a few years ago, my adopted mother died. (My father died years ago.) So I decided to try and have a better relationship with my birth family.

A reader, Kim, brings back our adoption series with the story of her search for her birth family:

My story begins in 1962. I was adopted at six months old. My bedtime story, as a child, was about the special day when my parents received a phone call that they had a daughter. Mom and Dad said I was dressed in a pink dress and black patent leather shoes. They called me their living doll.

I had amazing parents! Both wise and loved me dearly. During my younger years I knew I was loved, but I also knew that I was different from my adoptive parents—different talents, different looks. Whenever I thought about having birth parents, it was like putting my mind in a deep, dark, vast space—nothing existed. My constant thought was, “I wonder if someone out there looks like me, and is similar to me.”

When my first son was born, I thought, “My first blood relative that I know,” though oddly I thought of him as my husband’s son. My second son looked just like me. I was so happy! But again, I thought of him as my husband’s son. Same when my third son was born.

I realized at that point that I had never really felt connected to anyone. Maybe because my heritage was missing. I didn’t know where I came from. No real sense of belonging to anyone.

Before my adopted dad died he asked me if I ever wondered about my birth family. I responded with “sometimes,” but didn’t want to hurt my parents’ feelings. In their mind and in my mind, they were my parents. Dad then told me that in 1962, a social worker told them that my birth parents were both in college, smart, and named me Elizabeth Christine May. At that point my life changed.

A reader revives our adoption series by informing us that it’s National Adoption Month (the official day was Saturday). Her story “begins in January 1987, when I was adopted at three days old”:

It was a closed adoption through an attorney and my adoptive parents were much older than most couples who were having children during that time. Although my adoption was not during the 1960s, it was closed, and my adoptive parents did have a similar mindset of those in the 1960s-era adoptions.

My parents called my adoption the “A-Word” like it was some curse word that must never been spoken of.

During that decade—before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion across the U.S., before the Pill was fully mainstream, and before the societal stigma for single mothers greatly diminished—adoption rates were unsurprisingly much higher:

The number of adoptions rose from 91,000 in 1957 to 175,000 in 1970, then fell to 130,000 by 1975; the decline of the early 1970s coincided with the legalization of abortion.

In that context, when adoption was at a historic peak, here are several stories from readers adopted in the 1960s:

My own experiences don’t jive much with those discussed by other adoptees in your reader series. Not a surprise—every adoption story is different. My parents were neither wealthy nor particularly well-educated. My childhood was a happy one, and although I suffered my share of bullying (and doled it out, as most kids will), adoption was never the target for other kid’s attacks.

But then, my adoption took place in the 1960s. I was born pre Griswold v. Connecticut [1965], pre Roe v. Wade [1973]. There were quite a few of us adoptees around town. I knew of probably two dozen, including the president of my high school senior class. Some of us were below average, some were stars (like the class president), but most of us were somewhere in between.

Another reader experienced a far less happy childhood:

I was adopted in the early 1960s. At the time, white babies were in high demand and there were plenty to go around, since reliable birth control did not exist. While there were screening processes for adoptive parents in place, the act of adoption was seen as benevolent, as these parents were rescuing these “unwanted” babies.

While the criteria for these screenings is unknown to me, I have a good amount of anger and frustration, since I was placed in a family where abuses, both substance and sexual, were prevalent. There were also the traumatic childhood experiences in school with children torturing me with taunts of my adoptive status.

Below are two readers who fit that bill:

Sometimes I tell people that I would prefer to adopt because I was adopted, and they become defensive or threatened, like they think I am judging them for not wanting to adopt. A lot of people seem to think that an appropriate response is to say “oh, good for you, but I would worry that my kid wouldn’t be like me” or “that’s nice but I always worry that parents can never love their adopted children as much as they love their biological children.”

These kinds of statements are meant to make the speaker feel better about themselves for not wanting to adopt. But, not only are they based on faulty logic (just because you have a your own child, there’s no guarantee they’ll “be like you”), when people say these things, they don’t realize that these statements work because they make adoption, and by extension, adopted children, seem like a lesser option—the last resort if you can’t have children any other way.

A new reader with a new angle on the popular thread:

I adopted my daughter when she was seven. She is now 22. I have been a hands-on dad, and I cherish our close relationship.

The circumstances of the adoption are that my daughter’s birthfather was unwilling to take financial or parental responsibility for her. I was married to her mother and was raising her as my own. Her birthfather refused to pay child support and saw her rarely, so we approached him about adoption. His only question was whether or not it would mean that he could legally avoid child support. Told that he would be off the hook, he signed papers assenting to her adoption. I expected to see little of him after that.

I was surprised that upon the inception of the adoption, the birthfather began calling my daughter frequently, demanding that she visit him, making her feel guilty for abandoning him.

A reader responds to this heart-wrenching story:

While I can sympathize with the birthmother, as an adopted child myself, I feel as if a key component of the dynamic of adoptive children has been under-articulated. I grew up knowing I was adopted. It was always presented in very kind language: “She loved you so much that she wanted the very best for you.” My birthmother was always relatively present in this narrative. My mother showed me her pictures, shared the letters that they had exchanged, and I was given the opportunity to write to her if I chose to.

As an adult, I still have that freedom. However—and in many ways, I recognize this comes off as insensitive—I have no desire to establish a relationship with my birthmother.

An adoptive parent writes:

January 31, 2004 was the day that ultimately changed my life, when my young niece was killed in a car accident. She had been up all night getting high and attempted to drive home while exhausted. She had her two children in car seats in the back. One was just over a year old and the other one was almost three. It was a horrific car crash. They hit a tree at 70 MPH. The baby entered a coma, but the toddler saw his mother die. First responders were so devastated by the accident that two of them quit the field entirely.

I had been recently widowed and offered to take the children to raise. Their father said no. I didn’t know what happened to the children, as we were not allowed to see them. Then fifteen months later, the father was arrested on drug charges. The children went into CPS custody and ultimately to the paternal grandmother. After three months she gave them back, due to behavioral issues. They were like feral children, afraid of everything, wild and screaming. At the family meeting, I agreed to take the kids from foster care and raise them myself.

You would expect my family to be supportive, but you would be wrong.

Another reader tells her story:

I am an adoptee born in 1962, the Secrets and Lies-era, back when records were almost always permanently sealed, thus ensuring that birth parents and their biological children would never reconnect.

Do I love my adoptive parents? Yes, I do.  But there is a fundamental human need to know who we are and how we fit into the genealogical continuum of mankind. The Bible, for example, has pages of “begats” to trace lineage. More people than ever search genealogy sites like Ancestry.com trying to find information about their ancestors. It is a human instinct to yearn for this connection!

But not only is that connection denied to the adoptees of that era, we are castigated for even bringing it up. It is implied, or even directly accused, that if we have questions about our biological origins then we don’t love our adoptive families. That isn’t fair.

Parents can have two children or ten and love every single one of them. They aren’t asked to limit their love to one child. It is accepted that their hearts can hold enough love for all of them. Why, then, is it supposed that an adoptee seeking answered about their birth families couldn’t feel the same way?  Why do we have to “choose”?  

For the record, I found my birthparents at age 39.

That’s one of the lessons a reader, Kelly Robinson, draws from a tragic experience:

Biologically, I could have had children, but I chose to adopt instead. I adopted my beautiful baby girl at birth from a woman in Northern California I had met three months prior, when she was about five months pregnant. She was homeless and had two children, ages 6 and 10. Her boyfriend, whose sister-in-law had already adopted out a child, had influenced the birthmother’s decision to give her baby away. She said it was a case of date rape that had gotten her pregnant, and she feared the biological father might come looking for the baby. She and her boyfriend thought it was in the best interest of the baby to find her another family.

I went to California the day she was born. I fell in love with the woman who handed over this child to me, as I collapsed in the hospital chair overwhelmed with instant love.