Some Call it Rehab. I said, “No, no, no.”

I’m part of a group of Chinese adoptees and adoptive parents on Facebook. One adoptive mother commented on a post with the following idea about adoption:

“So many people call adoptionredemption” but I call it “rehab.”

My thoughts on the statement:

I agree that “redemption” is not the right word to use when describing adoption, but I would also hesitate to use the word “rehab.” I would like to think that I didn’t need a “course of treatment” from something when I came to the United States. Rehab programs are designed to “reverse the debilitating effects of an injury.” In the case of my adoption, what was the injury that needed reversing? If my limitation was being raised in a non-Western culture, I would argue that the very thing some see as needing to be “reversed” for the project of assimilation, is in fact a key part of my identity and essential to my being. If my injury was obtained through my birthparents’ hypothetical poverty, my abandonment, or a traumatic experience in an orphanage (which I didn’t have), I would respond by saying that it is naïve to think that “unconditional love” can erase the devastation brought by these events. Using language more specific to the idea of adoption as “rehab,” a wonderful adoptive family can certainly instill love, happiness, and family traditions in an adoptee. But even the most loving, honest, and supportive adoptive home cannot simply reverse the effects of those injuries received prior in life. The discourse around rehab is that there is an explicit problem that can be fixed (i.e. drug addiction, physical therapy), but I would suggest that treating adoption as “rehab” is an unrealistic goal, as well as an unhealthy one.  Adoption is a lifelong process, whose effects are felt in different ways at different points in an adoptee’s life. Though it is a journey that family, friends, and other adoptees can help us along on, our beginnings are an important part of our stories that should not be erased.

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