Adoption :: A “Both-And” Experience {National Adoption Month}

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National Adoption Month

National Adoption Month is a time when we recognize and raise awareness about adoption. Often times, what reaches the surface in the sharing of adoption stories is the great joy brought through adoption. A child in need is placed into the arms of a loving couple that has been longing for a baby. From the surface it seems only joyful. And it is joyful, so how could it be anything else?

For me, an adoptee, I find myself existing between the pull of both joy and sadness over my own adoption. While not perfect, I had a solid upbringing. I was raised by loving parents who instilled values in me that have shaped me into the person I am today. My parents are, and always will be, “Mom” and “Dad,” and they are also, much to their delight, “Nana” and “Poppy” to my three children. At this stage in my life, I can confidently say that I would never choose a different path for myself. I am happy with the person I am today. I have a beautiful family and a fulfilling career. I have, and continue to experience, joy as the result of my adoption.

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The Other Side

However, there is another side. I felt for a long time that a piece of myself, of my story, was missing. I was around eight years old when I truly grasped the concept of my adoption. From there, I engaged in something that a lot of adopted children do: I began imagining what my birth mother was like. Who is she? Does she have other children? Where does she live? Does she have my eye color? (Spoiler alert: she does.) These questions (and more) swirled around in my thoughts. For many years, who she was, existed only in my head. Until, a little over three years ago, I came across a really helpful piece of information in my adoption file and a lot of incredible details came together, and she and I spoke for the first time over the phone.

Since that call, we have had three face-to-face visits and I have had the opportunity to spend time with all five of my maternal biological siblings twice. It is hard to describe what it feels like to be in a room with all of them. They are loud and funny, outspoken and crude, and deeply connected. They know each other well, at times finishing each other’s sentences and laughing at punch lines to jokes before they are even delivered. It is magical, and intimidating. I am so thankful to know them, but knowing them is also so sad. It is sad because I am both sister and stranger, both daughter and acquaintance. It is such a hard and uncomfortable place to sit in. It is worth it, and I will show up at the table as often as I am invited. I will continue to sit in that awkward place, where I feel quiet and a little overwhelmed but also drawn in by the warmth of our unseen, undeniable connection. It can feel both fulfilling and isolating.

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There are both-ands on all sides of the adoption triad. My adoptive parents, while it is not my story to share, have undoubtedly experienced both pain and joy throughout their adoption journey. I know that at times their grief has been stifling, while moments of joy have taken their breath away. The same is absolutely true for my birth parents. Again, it is not my place to share their experience, but I know their connection to my life has contained both great moments of joy and pain. Sometimes pain being the more outspoken of the two emotions.

A Comprehensive View of Adoption

Recognizing only the happy in adoption sometimes makes it feel like sadness is off limits, that it isn’t okay to experience grief and gratitude simultaneously. But in reality, grief and joy pervade adoption. The very act of adoption exists as a result of the marriage of these two emotional experiences: grief — choosing an adoption plan for your child and the child losing connection to their biological family, and joy — holding your adopted child for the first time and the child being enveloped in the love of their adoptive parents.

National Adoption Month should challenge us to look beneath the surface of adoption, beyond the “happy ending” to the beautiful, messy, and emotionally complex stories within. It is only through recognizing the complex nature of adoption that it can be seen for what it truly is: a unity of sadness and joy, the existence of provisional love in the midst of brokenness and loss. By doing this, we also give permission and a voice, for adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents to freely express the depth of their emotional experiences, instead of requiring through unspoken expectations only shared joy and gratitude.

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Caitlin moved to Alabama from Virginia as a young child and has lived in and around Birmingham since. She earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from The University of Alabama and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She currently works full-time at a local, nonprofit child welfare agency, Agape of Central Alabama, and holds the title of Adoption Supervisor. She oversees both domestic and international adoption and specializes in educating families on attachment based, trauma sensitive parenting. As a parent, and a domestic adoptee, Caitlin finds great joy and fulfillment in her profession. Three years ago, 1 month before her 30th birthday, Caitlin was reunited with her biological family. Caitlin has since developed relationships with members of her biological family and has shared those experiences with her adoptive family. Personally and professionally, she has been surrounded by some of the bravest of women, from all sides of the adoption triad, who have greatly impacted her view of the world and her identity as a mother. She currently calls Bluff Park home, where she lives with her husband Wally, of 13 years, and their three children, Rowan, age 6, Elliot, age 3, and Remy, age 1. In her free time, you can find her working out in her makeshift garage gym, drinking copious amounts of coffee, or working hard to make the people around her laugh.