Adoptees and the Trauma of Invisibility — National Adoption Awareness Month
This article is written in solidarity with other adopted people who have been silenced, shutdown, dismissed and who have felt invisible during National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM).
We are saturated with feel-good adoption stories during National Adoption Awareness Month and it’s this time of year, every year that I become apprehensive. Why? Because as an adopted adult, I exist in a world that is seemingly oblivious to the marginalization and discrimination we experience — we are invisible.
This disenfranchised grief is not publicly validated, sanctioned, recognized or acknowledged. It’s the kind of grief that makes you feel invisible which only serves to perpetuate further marginalization— the trauma of invisibility.
In an article written by Psychologist, Darlene Lancer (2017), she discusses how some of her clients have expressed how they feel like outsiders within their families. She characterizes this sense of feeling different or alienated as ‘the trauma of invisibility’. She further maintains that this kind of trauma can also be triggered when “the child is serving the parent’s needs, instead of the other way around, which is a form of abandonment.” Sound familiar? Listen to adoptee activists, authors, and commentators and you will hear some of them talking about the expectations that were put on them as children to fulfill their adoptive families dream of the ‘forever family’. There’s no escaping this rhetoric during NAAM. The trauma of invisibility.
I’ve heard a firsthand account of a young child (whose mother is an adoptee) going to school and having a smiley face drawn on their hand to celebrate World Adoption Day! Yet, the mother of said child, whose very life was fractured as a function of being adopted, is meant to endure this in silence. What would happen if we counteracted this day by sending school children home with sad faces in recognition of the lives separated by forced adoptions or structural inequalities? Why don’t we have World Adoptee Day — a day that celebrates our strength, resilience and highlights the broader issues (and perhaps raises money for adoptee centric research or to help adoptees access services)? Would that receive the same celebrity adoration and endorsements? Where is the recognition that young adoptees had to lose their biological family first? What of the mothers and fathers who have never gotten over losing their children to adoption? What of those who want to parent their child but can’t due to poverty? Of course, this mother was not allowed to express how upsetting it was for her because adoption is to be celebrated. Her voice is not validated or sanctioned, and she would be labeled antagonistic if she dared to say, “NO adoption was not a happy event in my life.” The trauma of invisibility.
Most people (not necessarily adoptive parents) have this rosy view of adoption and when we challenge this (ever so politely) we are met with shocked faces. Then as it invariably happens, we are lectured on the merits of adoption. These are people who want to bask in the savior mentality (or being rescued narrative) and don’t want their assumptions shattered. Is it not hypocritical to say you love adoption but shut-down the voice of adult adoptees who disagree and who are in this position because of past adoption practices? We are told that our feelings do not represent mainstream and we are labeled as ‘angry adoptees’. The trauma of invisibility.
During NAAM we see celebrities waxing lyrical about the benefits of adoption. You might also see some politicians and bureaucrats ostensibly worshipping at the altar of celebrity and promoting adoption as the remedy to out-of-home care; yet I do not see them advancing our rights or engaging adoptee activists. I have even heard an account of an adoptee bureaucrat who allegedly dismissed the notion that our falsified birth certificates are an issue. This notion of internalized oppression exists within any minority group but it is probably one of the most painful aspects when one of our own members seemingly dismisses the issues raised by adoptee activists. The trauma of invisibility.
Adult adoptee activists are informed and speak from evidence-based platforms. Irrespective of our educational attainment (e.g., some members have PhD’s, Psychology degrees, Law degrees etc) and whatever our professional qualifications (along a continuum from none to PhD) what we activists have in common is our shared experiences, our passion for upholding human rights instruments and importantly having a voice where it is typically silenced. Adopted people and the broader public can have all manner of opinions on adoption. They can love it (stereotypical happy adoptee) or oppose it (stereotypical activist) but at the end of the day these opinions are not measures of what is socially just or ethical. Within any minority there’s variance in views but universal human rights (including the UN conventions on the Rights of the Child) are paramount.
I am a happy person and I have a loving adoptive family, but I am still an activist because I am acutely aware of the plethora of issues! As it stands, emergent research suggests that adoptees are overrepresented in all manner of health indicators (eg, trauma, attempted suicide, ADHD and addiction). We face discrimination and, yet we are meant to celebrate this and ignore the complexities. The trauma of invisibility.
Adoptee activists seek to change the dominant discourse and whilst mainstream tries to ignore us during NAAM, activists will continue to congregate. Why? Because we won’t sit quietly while adoptees (locally and internationally) are marginalized and discriminated against. Activists won’t stop fighting while adoptees are trafficked or treated as commodities. We won’t stop until the cloak of invisibility of adoption loss, grief and trauma is lifted.