Adoption Themes in Young Adult Literature

As an adult I can look back on my childhood and think, “wow, yeah, I was dealing with adoption related trauma,” as evidenced by the hours and hours spent playing two different games with my siblings: Lost Kids (a game where we were some version of shipwrecked and lose our parents and have to fend for ourselves in the wild on an island) and Orphans (usually orphans that had escaped an orphanage and were running from kidnappers). The literature I read, too, was full of adoptee themes…from Anne of Green Gables to The Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew. All were dealing with some sort of adoption or loss-of-mother/father-theme.

But no book was as horrifying and made me question everything I had ever known, as the book The Face on the Milk Carton. The girl in the book knows she’s adopted by her grandparents. They are raising her as their own, but then one day she sees her face staring back on a Missing picture on a school milk carton. Turns out her ‘mom’ had kidnapped her and given to her ‘grandparents’ to raise. The girl in the story was about 3-4 when the kidnapping happened. Of course this memory has been sparked by the Veronica Brown case, as so many media outlets are stating that Dusten Brown (Veronica’s father) had ‘kidnapped’ her (which is media spin, since everyone has known Dusten has had custody of her for the last 19 months). I remember reading this book and thinking, “oh my gosh, what if my parents have been lying to me? What if they really kidnapped me? What if I wasn’t supposed to be adopted?”

Of course that wasn’t true, as I found out later, but the restless feelings inside me were hard to deal with…and not something that I could even give voice to at my tender age. I remember, years later, having a talk about that book with my a-cousin and she said, “oh yeah, that was the scariest book, I was worried that I would get kidnapped!” And the look of shock on her face was priceless, when I said, “well, I was always afraid that I had ALREADY BEEN kidnapped, since I’m adopted.”

What books were you obsessed with as a kid? Any looking back and thinking, “hmm, I must have been dealing with some things?”

Adoption Poetry

In high school I read an article in National Geographic about Whooping Cranes, and how they were becoming endangered, and researchers, rather than using the old method of hand raising the cranes using Whooping Crane Puppets (google it, a real thing!) they began placing these Whooping Crane eggs in the nests of Sandhill Cranes, a close relative of the Whooping Crane. This article has inspired a few pieces of writing, but this poem was written for my poetry portfolio in my senior year of college.  


 Long slender wading birds
flying with straight necks across the horizon.

 He and she met in Child Psychology class
got married on the hottest day of the year
and couldn’t wait to start a family.

 Crane hatchlings become attached
to their first caregiver. This is called imprinting.

Their only hope was to wait
for a call from the adoption agency.

Option one for survival:
Endangered whooping cranes
raised by crane hand puppets,
humans dressed in crane costumes
and recorded crane calls
will grow to survive on their own
living to care for another generation.

Twenty-four hours after receiving the call,
and a cyclone of activity
they had their very own baby girl,
who fit snugly in the spot between her daddy’s elbow and wrist. 

Option two for survival:
whooping crane eggs placed
gently in the nests
of the smaller sandhill cranes,
to be raised as a sandhill.

No one questions her
about belonging
except when she stands next to her parents
and people ask “where did you get your height?”

Adoption Narrative Prompt

Describe the story your adoptive parents told you growing up. What age were you? What feelings and questions did you have about this “adoption narrative”? Was it a satisfying explanation for you? Explain. As an adult, whether or not you are in reunion, comment on how much of that story turned out to be true. Has your adoption narrative changed? What story, if any, do you share with friends, acquaintances?

I am two years older than my a-brother, and have vague memories of him entering our family. I’m told this is when I was given the adoption narrative by my parents, but honestly, I have no concrete memories of this actually happening. I tell people, “I always knew,” and when my a-sister came along, I was 6, and answering the question (where do babies come from?) with “offices.”

The story I was told was that my parents were too young to keep me. While my adoption was legally “close” (in ability to get identifying information or access my records), it was “semi-open,” in that once a year I received a birthday/Christmas gift, a card, and sometimes a few pictures. I don’t remember the feeling around my own narrative, but I do remember feeling shame around receiving gifts every year, because, unlike my siblings’ families, mine was always consistent and they stopped getting gifts when they were little kids. I remember one year, I think I was twelve, where I found a package under my parent’s bed (I had been snooping because it was the first year I hadn’t gotten a gift, and I was feeling panicky), and my a-mom told me that she hadn’t wanted me to open it because it “makes your brother and sister feel bad.”

As an adult, I think the most striking thing about my adoption narrative is: a) how much it ACTUALLY fits the dominate adoption-myth-narrative, and b) how much information was left out…the negative or white space, that could have painted a much different picture if I had known.

Like, I had no idea until I was in reunion that my dad was still in the picture 3 years after my relinquishment, or that both families actually wanted me raised with them (my maternal grandparents, paternal uncle). I had never been led to think about my father, as I had simply gone with the negative/white space storyline that he was a deadbeat. I was surpised by reunion to find out how sad it really feels to meet my mother, who is still, clearly addicted to drugs and alcohol.

I think one of the hardest things about my narrative is when I talk with the general public about my desire for family preservation, open access to records, limiting adoptions, eliminating the baby-buying mindset, and acknowledging the grief and pain and voices of adoptees, because my story fits the “crackwhore young birthmom” narrative. It feels invalidating to say, on one hand, I have been “blessed” by the adoptive life I’ve lived, and yet, on the other hand, I wish I wasn’t adopted.

Moses, the ultimate adoptee…right?

When Christians talk to me about adoption, they often cite Moses as the ultimate example of how awesome adoption is. I am always…shocked…by this line of reasoning, because I have read the Moses story a lot, and have yet to figure out how it fits with our modern day version of adoption.

So let’s recap the story, shall we?

Evil Egyptian Pharoah decides to kill all Israelite baby boys. Moses is born, but instead of being killed, his loving mama puts him a basket and floats him on the river. An ancient “safe haven hospital” drop-box, if you will. But loving mama doesn’t just leave him there to die, no, she has his older sister Miriam hide in the bushes and make sure he is okay. Because, after all, they dropped him off at what appears to be a strategic location and not the Egyptian-dumpster.

Evil pharoah’s lovely princess daughter went to the river to bathe and finds a helpless baby floating there, and takes compassion on it. Note this princess wasn’t looking for a baby, she just happened upon it (another point against modern adoption as a service to provide babies for people who want them, versus finding homes for children who need them.

Older sister Miriam sees princess with baby, approaches, and says she knows of a good wet nurse (Moses’ own loving mama) and asks the princess if she wants the services. Princess accepts because Gerber formula doesn’t exist.

Loving mama raises Moses in the home of Pharoah. Let’s say she was his wet nurse for the average weaning of 4-6 years. Maybe Moses wasn’t allowed to call her mama, but I am guessing he knew, even if he had to keep it secret. He knew he was in Israelite, which is shown later in the story.

At some point loving mama probably had to be separated from Moses as he was weaned and she couldn’t out herself to the Pharoah as his mother. Moses grows up, sees Pharoah treat “his people” poorly as slaves and ends up killing one of his adoptive clan people an Egyptian) and then hightails it out of town. He then hears from God Almighty and goes back, to rescue the Israelites…his biological family.

Plagues ensue, he helps curse his adoptive family and death comes to firstborns on the land in retribution for what the Egyptians did to the Israelites. He is reunited with his biological family and leads them to safety. Kinda the ultimate adoption-reunion story, and could be made into a Lifetime Movie.

And kind of a modern-day-adoption nightmare. I mean, how well would it go over in today’s media for an adopted kid to kill their adoptive family and then go back and live with their biological relatives as a hero?

So, perhaps, Moses should stop being held up as the gold standard for modern adoption.


Christianity and Adoption

The Bible talks about adoption, but does so from a VERY different cultural context than what we live in today.

For example:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look
after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being
polluted by the world. -James 1:21

Wow, this verse is great! Instead of dogma, lets take care of people…women who’ve lost their husbands, children who don’t have parents. This is an idea that I can get behind! It is loving our neighbor in action.

However, how this verse, and verses like it are twisted is mind-boggling. Because taking care of widows (why isn’t there a huge push for THAT here, is it because people are obsessed with procuring babies?), and orphans (parentless children) in a biblical context would be about keeping those children in families and tribes of people where they would be raised to know their identity and have their needs met.

Caring for these orphans, did not mean shipping them off halfway around the world or the country to be raised by strangers.

A few years ago Madonna adopted internationally, from a country whose idea of orphanages were the same as boarding schools (but for the poor). This girl, Mercy, had family who was willing to take care of her but was TOO POOR to do so. They opposed the idea of her being taken from her homeland and raised without knowing who they are (a common adoption process, both domestic AND international). What was the cost of keeping Mercy with her family, going to school, through age 18? 5,000. Imagine, Madonna, with her millions, could have paid that amount A HUNDRED times over, and Mercy would have been able to grow up with her family. To me, keeping families together, was what this whole concept was about. And not domestic infant adoption like it is practiced today (a blog for another day, perhaps, but you would probably be SHOCKED to see the amount of money that changes hands in domestic infant adoption).

The verse, in my opinion, is the spirit of taking care of others, of family preservation. And while there are children who desperately need to be raised in a family, because their family cannot (for whatever the reason), our contemporary practice of adoption does NOT keep with that spirit.

Never take advantage of any widow or orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, you can be sure that I will hear their cry.

Exodus 22:22-23