The Words We Use: National Adoption Month 2018

Lexicon: the vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject. (Merriam-Webster)

I wrote my book An Adoptee Lexicon, in which I discuss forty-five terms that are significant to me as an adopted person, because I want to have a conversation about the words we use surrounding adoption, especially those simple words we come into contact with on an everyday basis, those words that float right past non-adopted people but stop us dead in our tracks.

I began by compiling a long list of terms related in some way to adoption. Then, during each generative writing session, I picked a word from the list that held energy for me, set a timer for twenty minutes, and wrote longhand in a notebook nonstop until those minutes were used up. Later, after many weeks, I began fine-tuning what I’d roughly sketched out and adding the facts and statistics I wanted to include to augment my own thoughts. I didn’t write about every word on my original list, and I didn’t end up using every word I wrote during those generative sessions.

What I ended up with was part memoir, part poetry; a little bit history lesson and a little bit political commentary. The resulting book uses my own experience as a jumping-off point to consider the social policies that shaped adoption’s past and will influence its future. This interpretation of those words from my list that made it into the book is all mine, though not necessarily anyone else’s. That “an” in the title is deliberate and doing a lot of work for such a small, typically overlooked word: this is only one–not every–adoptee’s lexicon.

How do other adoptees react to the words I chose to explore? And what about all those words on my original long list that didn’t end up in the book? I’d like to invite adopted people to join me in conversation during November, which is National Adoption Month (NAM) (also referred to as National Adoption Awareness Month or NAAM) here in the U.S.

In the spirit of the brief bursts of writing I did to begin An Adoptee Lexicon, each morning in November I’ll post a word on my Twitter profile and Facebook page for adoptees to consider and respond to. You can follow along and participate using the hashtag #AdopteeLexicon. Please also tag your responses with your other favorite adoption- or NAM-related hashtags, and please do respond with video or images or songs or whatever creative thing you can imagine if the written word doesn’t move you. Please do take the conversation to your other favorite places on the internet as well, though I’ll probably stick to Twitter and Facebook myself. I hope that my daily posts will serve as your creative catalyst.

Let’s make this an adoptee-centric, judgment-free NAM conversation where all viewpoints are respected. And please, if you’re not adopted, just listen. There are other forums where non-adopted people can express their views on adoption. The #AdopteeLexicon conversation is intended for adoptees only.


Reflection (a poem)

In response to today’s National Adoption Month prompt from Lost Daughters, I’d like to share a poem I wrote years ago after my first child was born. This poem was originally published at Poets on Adoption in 2011.


with your mother’s wide eyes,
olive skin and old-world customs,
with cousins akin to sisters

with your father’s gravelly voice,
his cleft branded on your chin,
his surname on your back

You cannot conceive what I saw
when I studied my boy
lying bundled like a burrito
innocently twisting in the plastic hospital bassinet

I gazed into a mirror
and saw my gray eyes for the first time
and saw my milky skin for the first time
and saw my Slavic nose for the first time
and saw my earnest expression for the first time

For the first time I saw
my mother and my father
my tribe
my birthright

For the first time
I saw my self

Please Don’t Celebrate My Adoption

Today begins National Adoption Month, an initiative originally intended to raise awareness of the thousands of U.S. children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted because they cannot be reunified with their biological families.

The first day of this month is barely half over, and already I’ve seen joyous proclamations of “Happy National Adoption Month!” and “Celebrate National Adoption Month!”

This month is no holiday, people, especially not for those of us who are adopted.

Sure, I can imagine that if I had been in foster care for a number of years and had longed for a permanent home, I might be celebrating my adoption. Adoption can be a very good thing in those cases in which there is a definite need for a child to have stability and an adult in his life who can be counted on.

But even in those necessary cases of adoption, let’s not forget that a child has also lost just as much as she’s gained. Being in a position of needing to be adopted is not something anyone would wish for. It means that you’re separated from the very people nature intended you to be with. It means you lost your parents, one way or another, even if you’re still in contact with them on any kind of basis. Continue reading “Please Don’t Celebrate My Adoption”

One View on National Adoption Month

November is National Adoption Month, and I am an adoptee. I was not adopted because I was an orphan or because I was in foster care. My adoptive parents did not rescue me from starvation or disease (or any of the other horrors people give as reasons for adopting from countries less developed than the United States). My parents adopted me because they wanted to be parents, but they were physically unable to have a child the old-fashioned way.

Why was I available to be adopted? Because my birth mother was a teenager whose father was ashamed of her becoming pregnant. I can’t say for certain exactly why he felt so ashamed that he refused to allow my birth mother to keep me. My best guess is that his shame resulted from a combination of societal and familial pressures. Whatever the case, it was shame that caused me to be available for adoption. Unfortunately, the adoption professionals involved in my case sided with my grandfather against my birth mother. They offered no support to help her find a way to keep me.

I believe adoption can be a good thing. There are kids without parents who need families. And there are people unable to conceive who could create wonderful families for those kids. When those connections happen, adoption is indeed a very good thing. Some women certainly do relinquish their babies because they truly don’t want to be mothers, and when other people step up to raise those children, adoption is a good thing.

But during this National Adoption Month, my hope is that we can all remember that adoption should be, first and foremost, for the good of the child. The goal of adoption should not be to find children for want-to-be parents, but to find parents for children in need. I believe that the best option for any child is to be raised by his or her own birth family. Only when that scenario is impossible should a child be put up for adoption, because adoption resonates through generations.