Blog Post, Written by Alé

Adoptees Do Not Want to Hear these 5 Things when Sharing our Truth

Adoptees Don't Want to Hear these Five Things.  Photo of a person with their finger in front of the their lips, to say shh.  Dream Chasers and Change Makers logo in the corner.

Adoptees face so many difficulties and hardships that non-adoptees do not even consider. When we decide to share that we are adopted with you, we deserve an empathetic response. We should be able to steer the conversation, and non-adoptees should listen. The five statements and questions below are responses we get all too often. When holding space for an adoptee sharing their truth and experience, please avoid gaslighting by staying far away from these 5 things.

1. “You don’t look adopted.”

Some adoptees, myself included, do not stick out as the adopted kid in the family. (Although, I am a transnational adoptee from Brazil, my skin is white and so is my adoptive family’s.) When an adoptee discloses that they are, in fact, adopted, they are sharing an intimate and complicated part of their lives with you. I’m not sure why the impulse is to tell us you couldn’t tell. What I do know, it’s an invalidating response, that further erases our truth.

So please, don’t tell us how much we look like x, y, or z person in our adoptive family. We probably don’t see it that way. It is painful to grow up simply imagining which features you might share with members of a biological family. Knowing your hands are shaped like your father’s or you share a similar body-type with your mother are aspects of being a family that adoptees do not grow up knowing, for the most part.

While we are on the topic of being able to blend in as a member of an adoptive family, it is worth mentioning that in the US, adopting a white baby is more expensive than a baby of any other race. Google it. Also, transracial adoptees have done painstaking work to highlight their experiences, so I suggest doing some research about the experience of adoptees who grew up outside their race, written by the adoptees themselves, not adoptive-parents.

2. “You were chosen!”

Oddly enough, those that bear witness to our stories will often tell us that adoption is so special because out of all the children out there to be adopted we were chosen to be a part of our adopted families. Even as a kid, I called BS on this.

First of all, a large majority of us were adopted because of our parents’ infertility issues. Sounds like second choice to me. We were adopted because we were the next fresh out the womb, healthy baby ready for adoption. Many of us were adopted because we matched the race of our adoptive families. Nothing beautiful or special about it.

Also, chosen for what? Adoption trauma? To wonder where we came from? Forced to battle gate-keepers to find out the truth about our identities? If you engage with adoptee communities online, you will quickly find that most of us do not feel like being adopted meant winning a golden ticket.

3. “Adoption gave you better life!”

Adoptee communities commonly say we were given a different life. Being separated from your biological family, whether at birth or later is trauma. Adoptees are more likely to experience serious mental health issues, struggle with substance abuse issues, and four times more likely to die by suicide than our non-adopted counterparts. (Again, this is all google-able information.)

While adoptees are not a monolith, and some of us may believe we were better off adopted, you have no idea if our life is better than something we never experienced. Adoption, in and of itself, regardless of the circumstances of our biological parents, puts our psychological health at risk. Every single adoptee I have ever met in my life, again, myself included, have been in inpatient treatment for mental illness, substance dependence, or an eating disorder. We were all adopted at birth.

Consider the seriousness of the challenges we face as adoptees before suggesting that we have been saved from the life we may have had if we were not relinquished. So again, telling us we have a better life, or we have been rescued, or we are lucky is an erasure of our truth.

4. “Do you want to meet your biological family?”

Simply put, it’s none of your business. Adoptees have an array of extremely valid feelings towards their first families. If we want you to know whether we are in reunion with our biological families, searching, or not interested in knowing, we will tell you.

For me, personally, I am a pretty open book, and have shared aspects of my story publicly. Hell, I did several episodes of DC and CM about it. However, I choose when and where and with who I tell my story. Some adoptees searched and found their biological and were rejected. Others are so angry and hurt about being relinquished that we don’t want to search. Some of us searched to no avail, or only to find that our biological parents are deceased.

I have been asked about searching so casually by people I hardly know. It’s not a casual question. It is extremely personal to each adoptee and takes emotional labor to answer. Like I said, if we want you to know how we are feeling about reunion, or if we are in reunion, we will tell you.

5. “Adoption saved you from abortion!”

Yep, we get told this. I’ve been told this. When adoptees come forward with how adoption has affected us, when we tell the truth and it is not a sweet story, when we are angry about all we have endured, for some reason, all empathy is lost and people say, “Your biological mother could have had an abortion.”

Well, anyone’s mother could’ve had an abortion. Also, adoptees have abortions too. Your stance on abortion is irrelevant here. If a person is spilling their soul to you, about how they have been hurt so deeply by adoption, telling you of the trauma and hardship they lived simply by being adopted, and you say, “At least you weren’t aborted,” I suggest you watch Brené Brown’s video on empathy before you engage in any more human interaction.

How do I talk to an adoptee sharing their truth?

If you are confused about how to be an empathetic listener, watch that Brené Brown video on empathy. Instead of telling us it could be worse, or about a happy adoptee you know, meet us where we are at. Know that we have experienced something you have not, and we’re the experts on what it is like to be an adoptee. Listen more than you talk, do not bring up counter points. In a world that tells us how beautiful adoption is over and over again, while narratives are often controlled by adoptive parents, and adoptees are told how they should feel, it is brave and radical for an adoptee to share their truth with you.

Alé Cardinalle | LSW | Adoptee

Mental Health, Podcast Episode

Ep 19: Eating Disorder and Addiction Recovery Through Storytelling With Jessica Gardner

Dream Chasers and Change Makers How Storytelling and an Israeli Psych Ward Saved my Life with Jessica Gardner.  Jess tells her story of recovery from an eating disorder and addiction.

[Content Warning: This episode contains discussion of an eating disorder with specific weights and calorie amounts mentioned and talk of suicide attempts.] Jessica Gardner felt empty and confused as an adopted child, she was diagnosed with learning disabilities and .heavily medicated. Then the bullying began. The one thing she could control was her weight, and at least the kids wouldn’t bully her about that. Jessica’s eating disorder led her to depression and anxiety, and she found herself numbing with drugs and alcohol. Her first time in inpatient rehab was not her last, however, in her first treatment center, a seed was planted. She knew if she recovered she would share her story and she has with us in this episode. The people need to know information for this episode include the book “Signals” Joel Rothschild, an instagram post asking influencers to tell the truth about their bodies from Sierra Neilson, and the Instagram account @i_weigh. You can follow Jessica Gardner on Instagram @littlechronicwarrior. If you would like to hear about Alé’s time in mental health treatment go back and listen to Episode 3, Bravely Vulnerable. You can join the DC&CM community on social media on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, under the handle @dcandcm.

Blog Post, Written by Alé

My Biological Mother was a Domestic Worker: An Adoption Story

Title appears: My Biological Mother was a Domestic Worker, an Adoption Story.  Under appears the Dream Chasers and Change Makers logo, on the right is a pregnant woman's stomach with her arms embracing it.  Alé tells the story of being her biological mother being a domestic worker to be then be raised by domestic workers.

Friends, this a tough one to write.

Being an overseas adoptee from Brazil is a huge part of my story and my identity, interwoven into the fiber of my being. Whenever I feel like I have my footing and a deep understanding of my adoption story, the universe never fails to provide a new lesson.

A few months ago, I received one of these messages, in the form of an Instagram Post from an educator on race and womanhood, Rachel Cargle. Rachel often challenges her followers to think critically on issues of race and feminism, she insists white women #dothework, and confront hard truths.

A photo of Rachel Cargle and Alé at Rachel's lecture, "Unpacking White Feminism."  On the right it says Allyship = Knowledge + Empathy + Action, a quote by Rachel Cargle.
Meeting Rachel at her “Unpacking White Feminism” Lecture in NYC

One post in particular asked us (white women), to think about the way we have interacted with and perceive domestic workers. I learned from Rachel, that second wave feminism was largely about encouraging women to get out of the house. Feminism was framed as a way for women have careers, and lives of their own. For black and brown women of color in this country, having to work was not some profound new wave concept. It was a means of survival. Droves of white women liberated themselves and began careers outside the home. Meanwhile, women of color were entering the homes of white families to clean and raise children. In turn, losing time to spend with their own children.

The Circumstances of My Adoption

As I read Rachel’s post, over and over, my mind was doing flips. I went twenty-eight years not knowing my birth story. I heard things like, “She (your biological mother) gave you up.” Even more harshly stated, “She didn’t want you.”

In 2016, my biological mother and I connected on Facebook. I heard my story, our story, for the first time. My biological mother took a job as a live-in domestic worker for a much wealthier family. If not for this job she would have no income, no place to live, she had no options. She was 21 at the time. She realized she was pregnant. Her boss said there was no way she could keep her job with a newborn.

My biological mother already had a daughter in the care of the child’s paternal grandmother. She turned to the father of her unborn child. As I understand it, she quite literally had a door slammed in her face. She was given two options, live on the streets with her baby, or place the baby for adoption. Clearly, she chose the latter.

After my birth, she fell into a serious depression. She was ridden with guilt and uncertainty about the choice she made. The same boss who told her to relinquish me or face job and housing loss, told her not to worry about where I was because I had died shortly after birth. Not sure how that was meant to be helpful, or encourage her to get back to work. However, she did tell me she never truly believed her boss and knew I was out there. My biological mother lived with that pain for twenty-eight years until that day we connected on Facebook.

Being Raised in Part by Brazilian Domestic Workers

The nuances of this story dig deeper. My adoptive family (I never refer to them that way but for the sake of avoiding confusion in this instance I will), were privileged enough to be able to hire help. I was raised by many strong women, including my adoptive mother, grandmother, aunt, and two live-in Brazilian domestic workers. Both of those women had sons back in Brazil. In order for them to provide for their children, their best option was to come to United States and help take care of other people’s homes, and help raise other women’s children.

I am not sure irony is even the right word here, but the irony, of me, an adopted Brazilian child, being raised by Brazilian domestic workers, who are not even able to live in the same country as their children was lost on me. That is, until Rachel’s gut wrenching, thought provoking post. It is an incredibly painful thought to begin to comprehend. Those women also had to pretend they didn’t know I was Brazilian, because I didn’t discover the truth about my my adoption until I was twelve. Those two women were actually from the town in Brazil where I was born and could not share what it meant to be Brazilian with me, nor be with their own biological children.

I must admit I am still grappling with my feelings around this. Adoptees are often told we should be grateful. Grateful our biological parent’s gave us a “better life,” grateful our adoptive parents took us in for this, said, “better life.” Being adopted into the family I was adopted into gave me a lot of opportunity and privilege, and a loving family. Adoption also meant tremendous loss, loss of a first family, lost of my first language, first culture, first country, and starting life off with adoption trauma, the neurobiological consequence an infant faces when being permanently separated from their mother.

Action Items

Title: Honoring the Sacrifice of my biological Mother: A critical look at our relationship to domestic workers.  In the background is a woman with a globe on her stomach.  Two hands hold it in place with their fingers in the shape of a heart.  On the bottom of the image is the Dream Chasers and Change Makers logo.

If you have the need and are privileged enough to be able to hire a domestic worker, the point is not to shame you here. I stand with Rachel Cargle in asking you to think critically about your relationship to the women you are bringing into your home. Are you considering they are people with full lives and families who love them? Do you compensate them fairly for the sacrifice they are making to help you clean your house and/or raise your children? Are you being considerate of their time? What do you know about their culture? Is what you expect fair and just? Do you know their long term goals?

I speak in depth about my experience of being an adoptee on Episode 6 of the Dream Chasers and Change Makers podcast and have written another post about thing to avoid saying to adoptees, here.

In writing this vulnerable blog post, I ask you to sit with any feelings it may have stirred inside you. Feel free to scroll to the bottom of the page and share your thoughts in the comments.

Alé Cardinalle|LSW |Adoptee