The Catch 22 of Being Chosen

October 8, 2012

Would you consider it a privilege to have your legs amputated? Would you cherish your bionic replacements without yearning for your original limbs?  Would you be glad you’d been chosen for this honor? Absurd, right? No matter how wonderful your robo-legs were, part of you would wish that your body could have remained intact.

This illustrates one of the contradictions of adoption. Regardless of how love-filled and successful, adoption has its roots in loss. Although children are cherished by their adoptive family, the experience of “being given up” is a significant factor in their lives. Adoptees are not damaged goods but they are shaped by this loss.

Adoptees are frequently told they are Chosen Children (based on a 1939 concept in a book by Valentina Wasson). When they were young, my children resented the concept of the "chosen child.” It’s still a hot button for them as adults. They particularly reject the expectation that usually accompanies this euphemism: that they should be grateful they were adopted, that it was their good fortune.

I agree that the Chosen Child myth trivializes the genuine loss they experienced when they were uprooted from their birth families and grafted to our family tree. Our greatest joy -- their arrival in our lives -- came at a high cost to them.

The pervasive cultural attitude about adoption assumes that adoption is a perfect solution -- one in which all parties win. Everyone goes off into the sunset to live “happily ever after” and never look back. The truth is more complex and far more painful. It doesn't take long for adoptees to figure out that before they were "chosen" they were rejected. Before they were one family's "miracle" they were another family’s "problem." Talk about a mixed message.

The crowning insult is the unfortunate language used to explain adoption. They are taught from a very young age that loving equals relinquishment. I find myself thinking, is it any wonder many adoptees have trouble with commitment in relationships?

Yes, the intent is to reassure the child which is important. But we must explain adoption using language that isn’t so patently a Catch 22. Words are powerful. It is essential to use them with intentionality and understanding. Adoption occurs because of adult problems and the adults’ inability to handle them. Adult inefficiencies drive the decision. That should be at the forefront of any explanation. The birth mother's love for the child becomes a secondary factor. The new equation becomes: Birth Parent inability to parent equals need for adoption plan.

Gayle Swift


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