Originally published in Gazillion Voices Magazine | November 11, 2014
In a recent article, CNN reports that an estimated 5 million children around the world have been born as a result of assisted reproductive technologies, including invitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection. The number of couples using these methods as well as domestic and international surrogacy are steadily increasing, making surrogacy a billion-dollar, booming industry. Of course these options don’t work for every couple nor does everyone feel the same way about these sometimes controversial and expensive ways of creating a family. There are countless blogs, forums, and online resources helping couples face infertility and take the next steps.
When I first started looking for an online adoption community, I was struck by how many adoption blogs written by parents had started as infertility blogs. Through their words, I was able to see a glimpse of the pain they had in not being able to conceive naturally. Many of the couples had gone through invasive procedures, spent a lot of time, money, and energy into growing their families, and when all else failed, eventually underwent grief counseling in order to move forward with an adoption. In these cases, it was often made quite clear that adoption was a last resort option when creating a biological family was proved impossible.
Conversely, particularly in developing countries, adoption is commonly seen as the first, and sometimes only, option for orphaned or underprivileged children; little regard is given to the possibility of family preservation, community building, or kinship adoption. For these children, DNA is deemed less worthy, and all biological connections are lost. It’s interesting to me that people who openly communicate a desire to hold onto biology in their own families are so quick to separate children from their biological links.
When many of us adoptees naturally express grief surrounding the loss of our first families, our sadness is frequently met with critique or disdain. We are told that our adoptive families should have filled that void, and if not, either they have failed us or we are ungrateful for the home they have provided. Ironically, the complexity of emotions surrounding the loss of DNA for adoptees is often undermined by the very people who have grieved an inability to have a DNA connection to their immediate family.
Parents desire seeing family characteristics passed down between generations, such as seeing Aunt Kathy’s eyes or Grandpa Joe’s sense of humor in their children. It’s the exact same desire when adoptees articulate that we want to see our images reflected back at ourselves. I have wondered countless times if I look more like my first mother or father or if I share characteristics with my cousins. It’s unfair for adoptive parents to have this yearning and expect that adoptees wouldn’t or shouldn’t.
There is a cultural expectation that couples who face infertility will seek professional counseling to come to terms with their unfulfilled biological desires. Yet, when adoptees turn to therapists or mental health specialists due to missing biological links, often times an immediate stigma is placed on us. A hushed, “Oh, you got one of those maladjusted ones…” circles the room. I don’t understand this dichotomy, and strongly believe that just as infertile couples’ pain has been normalized, grief needs to be legitimized for adoptees.
In order to have some sort of DNA confirmation or connection, many adoptees have searched for their first families or have turned to DNA testing sites, like 23andMe. I feel extremely fortunate that my parents have always been supportive and willing to help me attempt a first parents search. I know that I’m in the minority when I say that I can honestly and openly talk with my parents about my thoughts surrounding adoption, family, and identity. Some adoptive parents perhaps feel threatened by adoptees wanting to search for their biological families. When adoptees search for their first families, it doesn’t mean they don’t love, cherish, or find joy in their adoptive families just as parents trying first to create a biological family doesn’t mean they don’t love their adoptee(s).
Since most couples starting a family try to do so biologically first, and then choose adoption, it is clear that DNA does have a strong hold on people. It’s unfair to assume that it doesn’t or shouldn’t for adoptees, as well. While sentiments like, “love makes a family, not blood” are nice, they undermine the importance of biology to a person. Love can certainly do a lot, but it doesn’t negate the inherent losses through adoption and the complications of not having a DNA connection to anyone. For too long, adoptees’ grief has been condemned while adoptive parents’ have received empathy. It’s time for consistent understanding and compassion.
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