“Aren’t you glad you didn’t have an abortion?”
In the weeks following the cancellation of Roe v. Wade, people who know I was adopted tell me that with some regularity.
“Phew,” I say, miming a finger of sweat on my forehead. “I bet you’re glad you didn’t have an abortion either, aren’t you?”
This is sure to elicit a confused, open-mouthed look.
Which, I must admit, is quite delicious in the moment, but soon sour.
Because their question confirms for me the public’s simplistic image of adoption as a way for “bad” women to redeem themselves hasn’t changed since I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.
Newsflash: “Good” people also get pregnant unexpectedly. They can be tall, short, married, divorced or single. Highway designers can go through a pregnancy crisis, just like school bus drivers.
Strippers can get pregnant unexpectedly, as well as librarians.
My birth mother, in fact, was a freckled redhead who was studying to be a librarian. His decision to abandon me was economic. She told me that if she refused, her parents would disown her and stop paying for college.
Our beginnings were like everyone else, but then a human hand decided who would raise us.
This human part is a roll of the dice, but when adoptees publicly share our conflicted and complicated feelings about adoption, we are labeled ungrateful, spoiled, or bothered.
My industry, the news media, bears some of the blame.
One of a journalist’s most useful tools is to cite scientific data, but the only statistics in adoption stories that I see are the number of adoptive couples expecting a child.
Studies showing that adoptees are four times more likely to die by suicide than non-adoptees are lacking in glowing depictions of these “chosen” families.
Or that adoptees are also more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, post-traumatic stress, and addiction than non-adoptes.
Researchers in the late 1990s found that 60–85% of teens in a California correctional school and 50–70% of teens in an Illinois correctional school were adopted.
A more recent study showed that adopted students were 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with severe emotional disorders and three times more likely to be expelled from school.
Did you know that there are now private groups on social media where disgruntled adoptive parents admit they’ve changed their minds and ask for help to “rehouse” their adoptive children?
By contrast, my own childhood was actually pretty close to the fairy tale that journalists so love to portray in stories about adoption.
I was raised by smart, loving, capable, and fun public school educators. They are my parents, I love them and am devoted to them beyond measure. My mom and I recently spent a weekend together, just her and me, at the family cabin on Lake Huron. My father passed away in 2018 and I miss him so much, there are days when grief feels like a physical blow.
I grow my own vegetables, raised three sons to adulthood, donate money to animal welfare organizations, own a home, happily married, confirmed Lutheran , I have a master’s degree and have published five books, one of which was a New York Times bestseller.
Every advantage, every privilege has come to me through adoption, and yet I also feel conflicted about being adopted.
Adoptees like me don’t know our medical history, our genealogy, who our ancestors were, where they came from, or anything else about our history, unless we go look it up.
Which in some states means breaking the law.
In Michigan, we are not allowed to receive a copy of our original birth certificate without a court order.
In elementary school, when our assignment was to fill in the blanks on a print of a large canopy tree, we dutifully wrote down the names of people who had long since died.
And it sounded like a lie.
The truth about adoption is darker, more interesting, more complex, and more human than the public has been led to believe.
And that has very little to do with abortion.
In our post-Roe society, if you really want to understand what an adopted person thinks about any of these topics, ask them.