Adoptee voices

I read the first essay: A Question of Class in Dorothy Allisons Skin about five times and every single time I read it I cried. it bought home some sharp hard truths about the fact that my adoptive parents have no idea who their children are or where they come from.

I am not middle class, I have never been middle class but I was colonised by the middle class, I was taught that I was middle class, that my people were middle class, that I was exactly the same as all the other middle class kids around me. i have had advantages by being adopted into the middle class, but not as many as you would think, I still spent my early twenties crazy, broke and homeless i still don’t really get the rules of middle class behaviour and sensibilities and I still fuck up royally all the time.

I grew up in a really affluent town in the south of England amongst good schools and university educated adults, but that’s not who I am, that’s not where I come from. I wasn’t even born in to the working class, I come from the underclass, the chaotic poor who have given up, who have no where left to turn.

Nobody ever made connections or taught me to make connections between poverty, lack of education, mental heath issues and having all your children taken into care. I was taught that poverty was a personal failing. My adoptive mother would often scream at me or one of my brothers “Do you want to end up living in a council house?” as if that’s the worse thing that could possibly happen, as if my people, my blood line for generations back hadn’t lived in council houses.

And there were things we were expected to know, things good, well behaved, well bought up middle class kids knew, that we couldn’t possibly have known, the three times table, the fact you don’t talk about money, the words to silent night, as if I hadn’t spent the first six years of my life in the east end of London not being fed or educated properly

Alison writes:

I understood that we were the bad poor: men who drank and couldn’t keep a job; women, invariably pregnant before marriage, who quickly became worn, fat, and old from working too many hours and bearing too many children; and children with runny noses, watery eyes, and the wrong attitudes. My cousins quit school, stole cars, used drugs, and took dead-end jobs pumping gas or waiting tables. We were not noble, not grateful, not even hopeful. We knew ourselves despised. My family was ashamed of being poor, of feeling hopeless. What was there to work for, to save money for, to fight for or struggle against? We had generations before us to teach us that nothing ever changed, and that those who did try to escape failed.

And I understand that, my father was an alcoholic, him and and my brothers father ended up in prison, my other siblings fathers disappeared, half my sisters got pregnant as teenagers and all that goes back generation after generation, nobody was educated and if they worked they did mind numbing soul destroying jobs. And so many of them died young or disappeared

I grew up in a world where girls of the class I was born into are seen as slutty, promiscuous, are more likely to be teenage mothers, and boys of the class I was born into were expected to be vandals, layabouts, criminals. so we were policed heavily, I was screamed at for being cheap, provocative, obscene, flirtatious, and my brothers were regularly forced to watch a video that talked about how bad prison was, because despite all that babbling about nurture over nature my adoptive parents and their educated middle class friends still believed that the bad blood had a chance of winning through.

My mother, the woman who gave birth to me got pregnant with my sister at 15 and in the environment I grew up in that was seen as a personal failure too, there was no understanding, no critique of the fact that there are clear understandable reasons why women of her social class who lived with intergenerational poverty, mental health issues and lack of education would get pregnant very young

and now I have this whole web of class issues that can’t be untangled, there is so much dissonance in the way I relate to class. I am ashamed that I come from generations of poverty, embarrassed that my sister cant behave more middle class like in front of my adoptive parents, and angry that I got told for such a long time that where i come from was defective, wrong and I should automatically be able to become middle class despite the experience of my formative years,


I think one of the reasons adoption damage goes so deep is because we have no one to acknowledge our pain. So very few people are willing to hear us, or willing to acknowledge our grief and loss our trauma. Nobody wants to know that adoption hurts and damages adoptees.

The very first time I said anything about how much I hated being adopted and how fucked up everything was was on a cross triad forum. It was an adoptee support section of the forum but I still got ripped to shreds, not only that but the thread with my words, with my pain, with the very first time I’d ever said “this is not okay, this is fucked up” got moved to the debate forum so they could discuss weather or not it was appropriate for me to blame adoption for my pain. Luckily another adoptee (Addie I think) scooped me up and took me to another forum that is the only adoptee centric, adoptee focused forum on the web where we can say our truths without getting shouted down for being bitter, angry, ungrateful or misguided (and I learned my lesson about “triad” forums and websites, they are always for adoptive parents really) If I hadn’t been pointed to the adoptee forum i don’t know what I would have done, I think I would have clammed up and never ever talked about my adoptee pain ever again, i don’t even want to think how many adoptees that happens to. We adoptees witness and support each others pain but I think to heal more deeply we need other witnesses, witnesses who have not been scarred by adoption, witnesses who can say “I haven’t been through what you’ve been through but I can see and understand how damaging it was”

In my off line life although all my friends know I’m adopted I don’t usually talk about my feelings around it much at all because even most people who love me, care about me, don’t get it, because people do refuse to witness my pain. But one day I just blurted it out to one of my friends. We spent quite a lot of time together getting drunk and talking utter crap and telling each other things we may not have done if we had been sober so maybe that had something to do with it. I can’t even remember what we were talking about or why the issue came up but she said something about adoption and i took a gamble and I said “yeah actually I’m not a big fan of adoption, I think there are lots of issues there.” which was clearly softening greatly how I really felt about it. I was gobsmacked when she, a real kid, agreed with me, she referred to it as “an act of violence” That was a really powerful moment for me. I always felt that my adoption was a physical trauma but I’d never heard anyone describe it as violence before. and it is violence, to children, mothers, families, communities. I’m sure I bore her to tears talking about adoption politics but its so refreshing that i have someone in my of line life I can talk about it with without having to explain or apologise to.

There are other people in my life that get it now but that’s after I’ve educated them on it, she was the first person offline I ever met who was totally right of the bat affirming about the way I felt about it and understanding of how damaging and oppressive it it, she was my witness and that has been incredibly healing and afirming for me

I don’t celebrate my birthday, or at least I don’t celebrate it the day I was born. Very few people in my life even know when my actual birthday is. But still when my real birthday comes around I am acutely aware of it and this year all I kept thinking was that the woman who gave birth to me is dead now. I hadn’t seen her for years, more than half my life, when she died and I didn’t grieve. I felt nothing about her death. It bought up all sorts of other adoptee and bio family related issues but her? I was cold, no grief no tears. I thought this was because I was done grieving her, because I’d let go of her. But things have shifted and changed in the couple of years since she died there is no loyalty or connection left for my adoptive parents and I have a lot more room and honesty emotionally. And I’ve started to notice a drifting, seeping grief for her, for her unlived, unsupported, unloved life, for the fact she still had serious untreated mental health issues when she died that no one ever diagnosed or supported her with, that it was partly those mental health issues that made her neglect herself so badly that death came so early for her. That she was always poor and always uneducated and no one cared about that.

I’m kind of broken so I dont always understand the world emotionally but I do understand it politically and my grief turns political. In the end the system killed her. poor uneducated women with mental heath issues get their children taken away and then get abandoned.

Whenever I read this poem I think of her

Death of an Irishwoman
by Michael Hartnett

Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that moved
all night were neither dogs or cats
but hobgoblin and darkfaced men
she nevertheless had fierce pride.
But sentenced in the end
to eat thin diminishing porridge
in a stone-cold kitchen
she clenched her brittle hands
around a world
she could not understand.
I loved her from the day she died.

She was a summer dance at the crossroads.
She was a cardgame where a nose was broken.
She was a song that nobody sings.
She was a house ransacked by soldiers.
She was a language seldom spoken.
She was a child’s purse, full of useless things.

We are the wounded
we don’t come home
we forget the days of our birth
we search the skyline

you can’t take us home
our bones are not woven
from the same earth as yours are

the words we speak
are tilted with accents at the edges
that you refuse to understand

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for some of us adoption isn’t a wonderful thing to be celebrated or encouraged, lots of adoptees do not see adoption as a good thing, as something to be happy about. It’s painful, confusing, identity annihilating. I am a colonised person, I lost my name, my culture, a language connection, a religious connection, my bloodlines. There are griefs that I cant even name.

The societies we live in are so invested in the lie that adoption is a win/win/win situation for everybody involved that it is totally ignored the two of the three parts of that triangle loose something irreplaceable. And its totally unacknowledged that we might grieve this forever, that it’s not always something we can or should “get over” or “work through”

I always thought Frodo Baggins said it best:

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand there is no going back? There are some things time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep that have taken hold.

I’ve meditated on this quote a lot and come to the conclusion that some pain doesn’t go away, that for some of us who have been deeply and repeatedly wounded grief is not a season but a thread, a bass note in the structure of our lives and part of healing is coming to terms with that, of building something positive out of that grief and sadness, but also just living with it. I’ve learnt that if i don’t acknowledge it as part of myself, if i don’t honour it I get depressed I go blank, I don’t feel all the good sweet ,positive things about my life either, cutting of my grief cuts of all my emotions. Grief is part of the kaleidoscope of who I am, I wouldn’t be myself without it.

It’s probably been noted by those reading this blog that I am not a big fan of adoptive parents, any adoptive parents, anywhere, I don’t think adoption can ever be redeemed, can ever be made ethical. And far too often adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents come across as entitled, privilege blind eejits, they really do. But every so often I come across an adoptive parent blog that doesn’t make me want to hurl, or even more than this makes me think that their children might have a fighting chance of having their issues acknowledged and supported. They are few and far between but those I’ve noticed so far are This Woman’s Work, Production, Not Reproduction,
Adoption Talk
and O Solo Mama. You know what they have in common? They all have adult adoptees on their blog roll. (well okay This Woman’s Work doesn’t have a blog roll but it does have a google reader widget in which she regularly shares adult adoptees words) They all read and listen to what adult adoptees have to say about their experiences of being adopted, they are open to learning from adult adoptees, they don’t think they know the adoptee experience better than the people who lived it.

It really disturbs me the amount of adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents who have no adult adoptees blogrolled and clearly are not reading or listening to anything we have to say.

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