by: Rebecca Peacock Dragon
Today is the fifth birthday I have had since knowing who actually birthed me. The fifth birthday I have had since knowing what family I was birthed into, the family I was meant to be in. The family that I resemble, share DNA with, and a common heritage. The fifth birthday I have had where I have received birthday wishes from people that I am actually biologically related to. The fifth birthday that I was able to see my place in a continuous line.
The other birthdays, the ones I had before I knew anything about who I was, those birthdays were spent being a secret. Not only was I a secret to my three full siblings, who I found in reunion, but most profoundly and impactfully, I was a secret to myself.
If you have never been a secret to yourself, a secret that is protected even by the law and the highest courts, you likely won’t appreciate what I am sharing here. Although most in today’s society give lip service to adoptees being able to have the right to know their original identities, that support doesn’t extend into re-evaluating and challenging the system that would permanently and legally change our identities and make us secrets to begin with.
Even those who can acknowledge that, yes, it is cruel to live life as a secret; still require the adoptee to pay fealty to their adoptive parents/family as their “REAL family”, and to diminish any differences in our dynamics. They’ll throw us a bone, but never would invite us to a full meal with table service. The harm is ONLY in the secret, NOT in the relinquishment and adoption itself, and we are mocked if we suggest otherwise.
For me, it hasn’t been “better” having birthdays where I am no longer a secret. Reunion did not make for better birthdays. My birthdays have just developed new complexities, new self-realizations, and more clarity on how living as someone displaced, isolated, and secreted has truly affected me. It’s a lot to wake up to and digest while blowing out candles on a cake.
This year I find myself wishing I had emerged from a pod, just for complexity reduction. I am struck by these words from Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), ““The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving anyone too much.” The world in which we find ourselves, the world in which today marks my entry into it, has engineered a system which requires adoptees to not love our biological families too much. Not if we don’t want to be hurt, or even worse, to hurt our rescuers.
Brave New World is a fictional dystopian society, but this aspect of it: the machinations and slogans that insist humans (adoptees in our comparison) not care too much about their origins except to have enough perfunctory knowledge of it to declare how nothing is as good or central as the love of our adopters….is something we face daily.
Today, on my birthday, I was mindlessly scrolling through TikTok (stick with me, this relates). Much to my teens’ chagrin, I have found myself enjoying it as a distraction and opportunity to unwind. However, through some cruel kismet, on my birthday my algorithm changed. Until now, it has only been videos about roasted feta and cherry tomato pasta, drunk mom jokes, and covid statistics. Today, I was faced with a 25-year-old single adopter’s post…one that I will not share here as it clearly shows the faces of her minor adoptees. Here are the captions, overlaid on videos of a beautiful and vibrant child and then an infant laughing and enjoying various activities:
- “Me promising my family that fostering is only a temporary interest, and that I wouldn’t adopt as a single mom.
- “Me falling in love with my son and telling no one that I agreed to permanent guardianship.”
- “Me in a courtroom adopting my son with no family present because I was still keeping a secret.”
- “Me a week later, bringing home a secret baby that I swore wasn’t mine (laughing with tears emoji)”
- “Us happier than I ever dreamed and realizing that I created the family that I needed despite everyone’s criticisms.”
The comment section is what we would expect. People praising this woman and assuring her she has done the right and good thing by keeping the secret. “I want to adopt tooooooo” “thank you for rescuing these children”. The adoptive mother even responds to one of these comments with “Thank you, the best miracle I ever gave myself.”
The majority of the commenters are participating in the typical platform-wide gaslighting of adoptees, contributing to the narrative that is the most harmful to us by consuming it and validating it. I was glad to see a few on there commenting as I did, asking this adoptive mom to stop exploiting these children on social media for emotional clout. But you can imagine how those comments were responded to. “Shut up” was the nicest response.
But let’s ask ourselves this question: what kind of system takes children from their biological homes, and places them with a woman who has procured these children to “create the family that SHE needed” and also has made them legal family to people so toxic that they must remain a secret to them? What social worker, what system would look at this situation and think, “wow, this is a great situation for children to be raised in”? What kind of system celebrates and lauds a woman who would then use those children to fulfill her own needs for a family, and parade them on social media for accolades and praise?
I can answer that:
- It’s a system that gives enormous power and privilege to adopters, most notably wealthy white ones.
- It’s a system that characterizes all families of origin as desperate hell holes of abuse or minimally benign neglect, and the proof is just because the adoption happened (an assumption that an adoption would NEVER happen without it being a rescue).
- It’s a system that has made a dangerous and cult-like idol out of the adopters’ “love”, a false belief that it heals and mends all things.
- It’s a system that values things, money, and “opportunities” over connection, relationships, and well-being within your own personal biological and cultural context.
- It’s a system that makes babies and children into goods transferred in irrevocable legal contracts, stripping the actual child of any rights to find redress or revocation.
- It is a system that is the fodder for emotional parasitism: where the “stories” and trauma of minor children are exploited for clout on social media platforms.
- And, lastly, it’s a system where if you call out its harm, you are vilified and attacked. Your voice is silenced and you are degraded.
So, this is why a birthday is never just a birthday for me, and for many of my fellow adoptees. My birthday marks when I arrived earthside just to be handed over to this system. And here I am, 49 years later, with its boot still on my face.
I don’t need birthday wishes, although I sure do appreciate them. You may feel I am beating a dead horse, or participating in self-pity. I can understand why those who weren’t displaced or made a secret could think that way. But if you really want to give me a wonderful birthday gift, you will listen to an adoptee, show them some compassion, and let them know you are listening. Even better, let what I (and other adoptees) am saying to change your perspective. This doesn’t get better without you. We need allies, real allies…not celebrators and consumers of our trauma.