Understanding the adoptee experience from an objective point of view is essential.
Adoption is anything but new to me. My mother is adopted, so is my youngest son, and I have countless acquaintances who are adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth parents. But it wasn’t until recently I truly came to understand adoption from an adoptee’s perspective.
My friend Heather spent years searching for her birth parents and recently made a connection through DNA testing. Last week, she wrote a letter to her birth father introducing herself and asked if I would read it before she sent it. In the letter, she tells her father how she found him, that she hopes her message finds him well, and that wherever he is in life, she hopes he has happiness and love. She goes on to share stories of her children, her work, and her childhood. Halfway through her letter, I felt the overwhelming urge to do everything I possibly could to help her connect with her father.
As an adoptive mother, I’ve always been committed to supporting whatever relationship develops between my son and his birth family, but I’m aware that it’s impossible for me to be 100% objective about the situation. The same goes for my mother’s relationship (or lack thereof) with her birth family. Despite my best efforts, I can’t separate her decisions from the impact they have on me as her daughter. My own emotions will always color my understanding of her experience, even if only on a subconscious level.
But with Heather, it’s different. As her friend, I’m able to support her adoptee experience without a moment of hesitation. I deeply understand her need to know who she looks like, to tell her family how proud she is of her own children, and to simply have her birth father know she exists.
She wants him to know she exists. It’s such a pure desire, and one I can’t imagine not doing everything in my power to help her achieve.
Yet so often I see comments from adoptive parents who are hurt or insulted by their child’s desire to connect with their birth family. Even for adoptive parents who are supportive, it’s essential to understand the adoptee experience from an objective point of view. I’m so grateful to the adoptees and birth parents who bravely share their stories on social media, but nothing compares to a real-life friendship with an adoptee. If you are a current or hopeful adoptive parent or even a family member of an adoptee, I strongly encourage you to foster relationships with adult adoptees outside your family. Seek to understand what it is like for them on a daily basis. Listen to what they want, what they need, and how you can help them. Harness your overwhelming desire to support them and apply that same passion to your own adoptee’s search for connection.
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.