I’m adopted. When I was a little kid, I thought everyone was adopted. You see, I had a tiny photo album my parents used to tell me about where I came from. It was the only album in the house that was all mine, and we’d sit and go through the pictures, labeling each of them.
“This is you you with Grandpa.”
“This is you on Mother’s Day last year.”
“This is when we brought you home.”
“This is us with the judge when you were adopted.”
That was it. Simple and matter-of-fact, my parents told me about where I came from, starting with that odd little photograph of Mom, Dad, me (at about 6 months old), and some old guy in a black robe.((That photo, alas, has gone missing)) As I was able to understand, they added details. How my first mom wasn’t able to take care of me. How Mom and Dad really wanted a baby, a kid just like me to be part of their family. How they got to bring me home right before Thanksgiving, and how exciting it all was. How they eventually went to see that old-guy-in-a-robe and make it all official.
They made it 100 percent normal. So normal, in fact, that for a long time I didn’t understand that “adoption” and “starting out with a different set of parents” were the same thing. I thought people had babies, and they kept them or they gave them to other people, and then at some point, when it was all settled, the parents would go in front of the judge and say, “This one. This is my kid.”((I’m actually not sure this is such a bad idea. I mean, how cool would it be if every kid knew that their parents had declared them wanted, and had their own pictures with the judges that made it official?))
I have no idea how much chaos I caused by telling all my friends that everyone was adopted. I do know that I finally got all straightened out after asking my mom when we were taking my (biological) baby brother to see the judge.((I was six-and-a-half years old and so proud of my “miracle brother” that I took him to kindergarten for show and tell.)) And when I finally understood the whole of adoption, it was still no big deal. Just another way – one of many – to make a family, and a pretty darn neat and useful one at that.
As I got older, I began to understand that while adoption is a pretty awesome idea, the execution is loaded down with baggage.
First I learned that a lot of people think of adopted kids as second rate, and that people think that parents can’t love adopted kids as much as biological kids.
I learned that lots of kids need homes, but that the chances of finding them decrease dramatically if one is not a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white baby girl.
That parents who adopt kids from other cultures may be woefully privilege-blind, and that those kids can end up feeling like they don’t quite belong anywhere.
That a lot of adoptive parents see themselves as saviors – taking kids from “underprivileged” or “savage” cultures and “lifting them up.”
That a lot of adoption is possible because of the sexist, classist, jingoistic society we live in, and the government policies that support it.
And while all of that is true, it’s not always true, and it doesn’t even have to be an issue, which is why despite all the problems with adoption, I’m still pretty darn favorable toward it.
Adoption is awesome because at its core it challenges our notion of what “family” is in an extremely positive way. Let me explain.
One of the strangest and most hurtful things people have said to me is, “I could never raise someone else’s kid.” This person will often go on to explain how impossible it is to adopt babies, how anyone older is just “such a problem,” and how they want a kid that “looks like me.”
This person will talk about all the issues adopted kids have, and how they just wouldn’t want to deal with all that – as if their biology is somehow a guarantee for a perfect, problem-free child.
They’ll talk about how expensive and unpredictable and emotional the adoption process is – and then plan round after unsuccessful round of fertility treatments that put them at war with their body and on edge with their partner.
But mostly they’ll talk about how deep blood ties are, the unmeasurable value of biology as a bond, as the only means to love.((Never mind that we generally create biological children with someone who is not biologically related to us. Or the judgmental insult toward anyone whose biological family has betrayed them in some way.))
Before I learned anything else about adoption, I understood this: biology has nothing to do with the ability to love someone wholly, fully and intensely.
Family isn’t about biology, and it’s really not about creating an army of Mini-Mes.((Seriously, if this is why you want to pro-create, do the rest of us a favor and stop now.)) It’s about who you love, who you share life with. It’s about learning from one another, challenging one another and bringing up the next generation of humans to be functional, loving and brilliant adults.
It’s National Adoption Month, and it’s nearly Thanksgiving. I’m not saying we should all run out and adopt, but if the idea of adoption is hard for you, or if you struggle with a picture of family that isn’t Breadwinner-Dad + Stay-at-Home-Mom + 2.5-Biological-Kids, may I suggest you consider that there’s more to it than that? Expanding our notion of family is the first step toward a world that celebrates each person as valuable and awesome, and that’s something worth being grateful for.
If you are a non-heteronormative family who’d like to grow via adoption, the Human Rights Campaign is sponsoring a Twitter chat tomorrow (Tuesday, November 17, 2014) night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. More information here or follow #LGBTAdoption.
ETA: My folks found the judge pic!