The Adoption Secret



During a recent trip to a playground, a well-meaning mom approached me with a surprising question. 

“Does your daughter know she’s adopted?” 

I looked at her quizzically and she continued, “My child asked if your daughter was adopted and I told her I didn’t know because I didn’t want her to say anything.” 

I certainly appreciate her sensitivity to the matter, but the thought struck me as amusing that my daughter wouldn’t know she’s adopted. This family was not aware that I didn’t get custody until she was a cognizant four year old, but I figured the fact that we have two different skin colors is pretty much a dead giveaway. 

That obviousness is not always welcome because sometimes we get double takes from strangers and frankly, how our family came together is no one else’s business. 

But I would never be motivated to keep her adoption a secret… especially from her. 

Why would I? There’s nothing to hide. I want it to be something she’s proud of…. the fact that she was chosen specifically and I worked so hard to make her my daughter. 

Social workers advise adoptive parents tell their child his or her “adoption story” often and from the start. I have a photo album of memories from our process in India that we look through every year on my daughter’s Gotcha Day, the anniversary of the date adoptive parents gain custody. 

Today happens to be the Gotcha Day of my niece, now 22, who was adopted as a baby from Russia. I’ve grown up in a family where adoption is something to be celebrated, not kept a secret. 

When children know their origin from the start, there’s no bombshell to drop later which can be shocking or interpreted as negative because it was kept hidden for years prior.  

Particularly in previous generations, many adoptive parents felt compelled to not tell a child whether he or she was adopted under the guise of protecting them. 

Let me tell you about a man named John. He was born and raised in Chicago with his parents who immigrated from Ireland at some point. His teenage cousin back in Ireland wanted to come to the U.S. to start a new life here and upon arrival, she stayed with her relatives in Chicago. 

Ann, 17, clicked with her cousin, John, who was just a few years older. In fact, they had such an apparent connection that it compelled John’s mother to have a sit down discussion with her son. 

His mother told him that he was adopted, which he had no knowledge of before. It was a shock to both John and Ann that they were not biologically related. 

It was not long after that, I’m told, that John and Ann were married…. My maternal grandparents had quite a story. The adoption roots run deep in my family. 

I know my great grandparents only had my grandfather’s best interests at heart. They most likely didn’t want him to feel different in any way. Adoption was something that was typically kept a secret back then. 

It’s taken decades for society as a whole to transform its thinking and embrace adoption. 

The current trend not only favors open communication, but complete open adoption, in which the adoptive family maintains contact, in varying degrees, with the birth parent(s).

Opinion on this and the extent of contact with the birth parents varies. That’s a personal decision which should be based on the unique needs of each individual child and all the players involved. 

But I’m surprised to hear there are still some adoptive families who currently choose to keep their child’s adoption a secret from him or her. 

I have a friend who works at a pediatrician’s office. One of her young patients has a note in her medical file advising all personnel who come in contact with her not to reveal to this child that she is adopted. It’s her parents’ request and completely their right up until the child is 18. 

From the outside we shouldn’t judge this situation. I’m not a fan of pointing fingers at other parents, but for medical reasons alone this is a secret waiting to be told, not to mention the emotional processing to come. 

My hope would be for all adopted children to be proud of the fact that their parents wanted them so badly that they went out of their way to make it happen even though biology or life circumstances didn’t cooperate. 

It hurts when some people still don’t get that. Ignorant comments differentiating between birth and adoptive children can strike a nerve. It doesn’t happen often, but I have an acquaintance who feels the need to point out having a “real child” (versus adopted.)

Biology and chromosomes don’t make a family. A family is defined by the love that binds them. 

My daughter is my REAL daughter in every way, legally and otherwise. I couldn’t possibly love her any more. It’s doesn’t matter that our skin color is different or that she didn’t grow in my tummy. 

We are connected in the most powerful way… through our hearts and souls. 

And I want her to know, that’s no secret.