Scenario one: Young boy’s mother dies of a long drawn out illness; just a few months later, his father also dies of a sudden and quick illness. It is tragic and beyond imagination. No one tells the boy he should be grateful and happy that his Aunt and Uncle made them a part of their “forever family.” They will not celebrate a “gotcha” day. They will not tell him he was “chosen.” They are concerned, how will he recover from this unthinkable trauma of losing both of his parents as a young boy?
Scenario two: Young girl is put on a plane with complete strangers, to live in another country with a new family. She is supposed to be grateful and happy, forever. Her trauma of losing both of her parents is not acknowledged. She is not allowed to mourn.
It hit me one day, and honestly, it’s surprising that it took me so long. Scenario one is a true life story. My son is friend’s with the boy. Every time the boy is at our place, I want to hug him and never let him go. The first time he came over, I legit had to go into another room because I started tearing up. I imagined how horrifically sad it was for him, on the deepest level. One he probably does not even have the capacity to handle yet. I thought about his mother and his father and how they will never get to see any of these moments as their boy grows up. I thought about how unfair that is. And then after a few times of seeing this new friend of my son, it finally hit me. The same thing happened to me.
Scenario two is also a true life story. For too many. For the millions of children, and adults like myself, who are adopted. Most of us, for all intents and psychological purposes have lost our parents. But then, instead of being given the space to mourn and to process the tragedy, we are told we should be grateful and happy! We are forced to celebrate “gotcha days” and be repeatedly reminded of how lucky we are to have our “forever family.” The juxtaposition is mind-numbing. As Liz Latty wrote in What We Lost: Undoing The Fairy Tale Narrative of Adoption, “Imagine for a moment, if we treated other losses this way. Imagine losing a loved one—tragically, unexpectedly—and then being expected to behave as though it was the best thing that ever happened to you.”
Which brings me to the topic of adoptees and mental health. We know that adoptees are four times more likely than non-adoptees to attempt suicide. We have higher rates of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Yet, so many of us have become so accustomed to living with these conditions that we fool people. We fool ourselves, and we fool others. An adoptee friend of mine recently “shocked” a non-adoptee when he shared that he deals with anxiety and depression on a daily basis. “But you seem so well adjusted?!” the non-adoptee said to my friend. My friend is well-liked and extremely personable and, for the most part, is well adjusted. But, there is an and. He is well adjusted AND he deals with mental health issues. The two can co-exist, particularly for adoptees who have been told most of our lives that we should be grateful because we are so lucky. Here’s the kicker though, my friend is someone who does feel lucky and is very grateful for having been adopted by his family. Yet, and still, the mental health issues exist because adoption is born from a traumatic loss of one’s parent(s). This fact, no matter how some may try to re-package it and wrap it up in pretty paper with glittery bows, will forever be. Adoption happens because of a traumatic loss to the child. Let’s give the space and support needed to adoptees to mourn the loss, to process the loss, to be angry, to be sad, to be normal.