Monday, April 8, 2013

ADOPTION STIGMA

When I was a young boy, there were kids all over the place in the neighborhood.  It was a new neighborhood and a lot of the families moving into it were veterans from World War Two or the Korean Conflict.  I knew almost every kid on my block and a lot of kids on adjacent blocks.  Their parents knew who we were and most of the parents knew each other.  There was one kid up on the next block who was a little different then the rest of us.

Brian was younger than me but not by much.  He didn't have any brothers or sisters which was in and of itself a strange thing in the neighborhood.  Brian did not want to play the usual games that the rest of us did.  He wanted to play "army".  He had a set of military fatigues that he would wear all of the time and usually had a toy gun.  It was the only thing Brian wanted to do.  Along with this behavior, Brian didn't look quite right.  It is hard to explain but he just didn't seem to fit in at all.  He was a good kid though.  He never caused any trouble and his parents were some of the nicest people I knew growing up.

I don't remember the day or the circumstances, but one day word got out that Brian was adopted.  Well, this explained a lot to us eight and nine year olds as to why Brian was so different.  Adoption.  It was a word not used much except as an insult to one another.  Every once in a while someone would get irritated with somebody else and the suggestion that they were adopted would eventually come out.  Now suddenly, we had someone who really was adopted and the vision of Brian's strangeness seemed to be explained away by that fact.  Brian wasn't normal.  He was adopted.  I carried this with me until I matured a bit and as I grew into my teens, the realization that Brian was no stranger than the rest of us came into reality.  As we entered our young teens we began to accept Brian for who he was and the adoption fact slowly faded out from defining Brian.  As we grew older and got to know Brian better, adoption as an insult left our vocabulary for the most part.

After I married Barb, and we had settled down into a comfortable relationship, we began to think about having kids.  Barb thought about it more than I did, I will admit.  I was still a young and strong and was playing basketball or baseball everyday with a football game thrown in every once in awhile.  Brian had moved away and to be honest I never really thought much of him.  I would still see his mom and dad out working in their yard and would wave to them or would see them at church and talk to them.  I never really knew what had happened to Brian and still don't now that I think about it.

There came a time that after trying for a long time to have a child, it became clear to Barb and myself that chances are we were not going to be able to have one of our own.  It wasn't long before Barb brought up the idea of adopting a child.  My mind immediately drifted back to those days when I was very young and I saw Brian in my minds memory.  Adoption.  I would have a kid who was adopted.  I questioned myself as to whether I wanted that as I remembered how we had treated Brian when he was young.  After giving it a lot of thought, and reliving what I knew about adoption, I decided I would be okay with it.  Barb and I signed up to be put on a waiting list to adopt a child.

I don't think most people are aware of how many couples want to have a child but can't.  I don't think a lot of people realize that there are couples out there who would give almost anything to be able to adopt a child.  Me and Barb became one of those couples.  The waiting list was said to be well over two years long.  The cost was high, higher than the hospital bills would be if you had your own child and, at the time, there was not a tax break fro adopting a child like there was if you had your own.  Everything seemed stacked against adoption.

We took parenting classes with other couples wanting to adopt.  It was required.  Our life style was put under a microscope to be sure we would be good parents.  Our house was inspected to be sure it was a good environment for a child to be raised in.  People we knew were questioned as to what kind of people we were.  Every bit of our lives were open to be scrutinized before we would be considered fit parents to adopt a child.  Meanwhile, as we waited, we saw other families have children without trying.  Sometimes the parents would complain about the inconvenience of having yet another child as we waited patiently to be given the chance to adopt.

Finally we did get that chance in the fall of 1982.  That December0 we, we were driven up to a house where an 11 month old boy was being kept in a foster home for the Missouri Baptist Children's Home.  I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on that kid and I am sure Barb won't either.  We began to spend every evening with him as Christmas drew near.  The date was set for us to bring him home to be part of our family.  Three days before Christmas, We went to court and got temporary custody of that fine boy.  It would be another nine months before we got permanent custody.  During that nine months, at any time, that child could be taken away from us depending on what the birth parents did.  If they changed their mind and a judge ruled that blood is thicker than a loving home, we would be childless again without warning.  That did not happen and so nine months later, we became a permanent family.

That's the background of what I wanted to address which is the stigma of being an adopted child or adopting a child.  I would have thought the stigma would have lessened a bit over the years and perhaps it did, but it had not lessened by much.

We never hid the fact from our son that he was adopted.  He knew it from day one.  His birth mother wrote a lovely letter to him when she was in the hospital giving birth, and it was given to us to keep for him.  He has read that letter several times.  In that letter she tells the story of how she was able to hold him, how wonderful he was, and how much she loved him.  She explained that she loved him so much that the best thing she could do for him was to let a couple who was more capable than herself to take him and raise him.  It was a lovely letter and one that touches me every time I read it.  This young girl was mature beyond her years and realized that options are out there and that there are times when the option should be taken, even if it does hurt.

Since our son came to be part of our family many different reactions have been seen.  My grandfather grabbed him when he first saw him and held him on his lap for a full afternoon, talking to him and telling him stories even though he was only eleven months old.  My Aunts and Uncles welcomed him into the families as though there was no difference between this adopted child and the other children in the family.  For the most part, our son was considered to be a part of a normal family and adoption never really came up.

For the most part.  Then as time went by, the stigma of an adopted child began to surface here and there.  I felt the pain of what Brian's parents must have felt so many years before as Brian's adoption was seen as a source for who Brian was, or who he wasn't.

Things get said by people, sometimes intentionally, most times not, that hurt you as an adoptive parent.  Things are said that intimate that our child is not as good as others because he was adopted.  My son has heard things said about adoption that hurt him a lot and has caused him to decide to not deal with people who say things that hurt him.  I have heard prospective parents say that they would never consider adopting a child and it is because the stigma of being adopted or adopting is still there.  It is there and it is strong and it hurts a lot every time something comes up about it.

Since the time we adopted our son, my niece has adopted two wonderful children from China.  I do not think of them being adopted, but think of them as my niece;s children.  I think of them just as I think of her brother's kids who are not adopted.  I have found out and met a wonderful man who was given up for adoption by one of my cousins.  He is as much a part of the family to me as anyone else that are his half brothers or cousins.  Yet I am sure that he has felt the pain now and then that the stigma of adoption brings out in people.

The one thing I have been able to tell my son in a vain attempt to fight the stigma of adoption is this.  "Most kids think they are wanted, but there is always that little thing in their heads that makes them wonder if they were wanted or not.  One thing you NEVER have to think about is whether you were wanted or not.  You KNOW you were wanted by the very fact of all the effort we went through to bring you into our family."

The stigma still lives though.  Adopted kids aren't quite as good as natural children.  Adopted kids aren't really part of the family.  Adopted kids aren't loved as much as blood kids.

The stigma goes on and on and it is wrong.  No matter how many times I run into the stigma of adoption, it still hurts when sometimes things are said putting down adoption because of the stigma it has.  It hurts bad.  And all the times in the past that things were said or done stay with me and still hurt when they cross my mind.  A lot of times it is just people not thinking before they say something.  A lot of times when something is said, it is not meant as I take it when I hear it.  It still hurts though.

I know one thing though.  I am so very proud of my adopted son.  He is every bit my own son as any other child is to their parents.  He sees me as his dad and Barb as his mom and nothing will ever change any of that.  I would not trade him for the world.  He truly has been and still is the greatest blessing I have ever been given and I thank God for him every day.