Why this common explanation proves harmful to adoptees.
Before my social media detox this winter, I came across the feed of adoptee El Nic, who shares daily reels and IG stories about her closed adoption experience. As an adoptive parent, I’m constantly seeking out birth parents and adoptee feeds in order to learn from other members of the triad, and El Nic’s perspective is one of the most insightful I’ve found so far.
In December, she shared a three part reel labeled, “No Adoptee Was Given Away Because They Were Loved.” While many of the commenters disagreed with her sentiment, I found myself watching the reel over and over, in disbelief that it had taken me so long to understand this obvious truth. I, too, have been guilty of saying the words, “Their mother placed them for adoption out of love,” and now I fully understand how damaging these words can be to an adopted child or adult.
Don’t misunderstand me — I believe birth families often do love the child they chose to place, but that love is the not the reason they choose adoption. The real reason can be anything – age, finances, lack of emotional support, substance abuse, health issues, mental health, circumstances surrounding the conception or pregnancy, education or career pursuits, the list goes on. But the reason is never because they loved them so much. As El Nic explains, “I would never look at my puppy and say, ‘I love him so much, I’m going to give him away!’ No! I would give him away if I couldn’t feed him!”
It’s so obvious to me now that telling a child they were placed for adoption “because they were loved” is not only untrue, but terribly confusing. What does it teach a child about love? How will they ever feel secure if they are taught that being loved leads to abandonment? As an adoptive mother, I understand how difficult it can be to explain the circumstances of adoption in age-appropriate ways, but it’s my job to do so. As my son grows, I will be sure to make it extraordinarily clear to him how much his birth family loves him, but I will never use that love as an explanation for his placement. Instead, I will say, “Your birth family loved you. They chose Daddy and I to be your parents because…”
Thank you to the adoptees and birth parents who so bravely share their perspectives for the benefit of young and future adoptees.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.