Look no further than the popularity of ancestry and DNA kits as proof, even for those raised in nuclear families.
I am not an adoptee, but I am the daughter of one. My mother was adopted as an infant by members of her family — her biological uncle and his wife. Her adoption was not “open” by today’s standards, but she knew certain members of her birth family, she understood why she was placed, and she had the opportunity to connect with her biological siblings later in life, though she chose not to.
As the child of an adoptee, I bear no trauma or feelings of abandonment, but I do face missing links to my biology and identity. And while I completely support my mother’s choice to remain disconnected from her birth family now that I am an adult, I felt differently as a child. I was full of questions and curiosities, but not because I wanted to be part of a different family. Not because I wanted to replace my adoptive grandmother with a biologically-related one. I longed for information about my biological family because it is natural. Look no further than the popularity of ancestry and DNA kits as proof, even for those raised in nuclear families.
I’m sharing my perspective as both the child of an adoptee and an adoptive mother in hopes of helping adoptive parents understand that their child’s desire for a connection to their birth family is normal and not a barometer of their love for their adoptive family.
My curiosity started in elementary school, with the introduction of family tree projects and biology assignments. As a student, I wanted to fill out my family tree properly. I felt that listing my mother’s adoptive family on my science homework was simply incorrect. Ironically, my mother never obsessed over such things. Perhaps because she had met her birth family. Perhaps because she looked just like them. I, on the other hand, had no such mirror.
I deeply relate to adoptees who long to know who they look like. My mother looks identical to some of her birth siblings, and my younger sister is a carbon copy of her. Many of my cousins, who are biologically related to my mother (through her kinship adoption) look eerily alike. And then there’s me. My mother used to joke that if she hadn’t seen me immediately after my birth she would have been convinced that the hospital gave her the wrong baby. A pale redhead was not what she had in mind, given my father’s dark hair and complexion. It’s not that I look nothing like her. It’s just that I look more like someone else. Someone I’ve never seen before.
My desire to know who I looked like or complete my homework with accurate information had nothing to do with a lack of love for my mother’s adoptive family.
When I was 10 years old, my great aunt was riding next to me in the car when she announced, “You look just like Virginia. You have her nose and mouth and her jawline.” Virginia was my mom’s biological mother. That one comment launched a years-long obsession with me wanting to know more about my biology. Is she the reason my nose is shaped the way it is, or was my ENT right that it was a result of my allergies? Speaking of which, where did my allergies come from? No one else in my family is allergic like me. And what about the red hair? The list goes on.
My desire to know who I looked like or complete my homework with accurate information had nothing to do with a lack of love for my mother’s adoptive family. On the contrary, there is no one I adored more than my grandmother (who adopted my mom). But the fact that I loved her wholly and completely did not erase my questions.
And my experience doesn’t begin to compare to adoptees who have no link to their biological family or transracial adoptees who have no racial mirrors in their home. I was raised by my biological parents in a home and a community of people who look like me. My search was not for relationships but rather facts. Photos. Names. Fill in the blanks. But even if I had wanted to pursue relationships, they would have been in addition to, not in place of, my current family. If you are an adoptive parent, I encourage you to recognize and honor your child’s desire for a connection to their biological family without feeling threatened. A child can love more than one mother, just like a mother can love more than one child.
Growing up in a family surrounded by adoption led me to adopt my son, and my own missing links left me hell-bent on building a connection with his biological family. I strived for an open adoption. I saved every photo, every document with his birth mother’s handwriting, and recorded every trait of his that reminds me of her in an effort to spare him the frustration I felt as a child. Perhaps he’ll never want these things. But if he does, I will not worry that it means he doesn’t love me.
I will not worry that he loves his biological grandparents more or less than his adoptive ones. Because I know I didn’t.
If you are an adoptive parent who has suffered infertility, miscarriage, or infant loss, realize that your child’s love for you does not erase the loss of his biological family any more than your love for your child erases the loss your feel for the children you couldn’t have.
One child does not replace another.
One family does not replace another.
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.