September 6, 2013

Why It's NOT Helpful to Tell Adoptees to Be Grateful They Weren't Aborted (Part One)

I asked some of my adoptee friends why it’s not helpful when people tell them to be grateful they weren't aborted. Yes, believe it or not, that's really common for adoptees to hear.    Today I’ve taken a sampling of their answers and am addressing just one reason why. Keep in mind, it’s not the only reason – just one that I will be addressing in this series.  

Once I share a few of their comments, I'm going to weigh in...

Deanna: Adoptee friends, why isn’t it helpful when people tell adoptees to be grateful they weren't aborted?

 “To be completely frank and politically incorrect, in the decades it has taken me to gain access to my siblings and birth family as well as deal with the circumstances into which I was relinquished, there have been many times I wished I were aborted. Those days have passed, but it is not lost on me that the quandry into which falsified birth certificates and denial of grief deliver a child, can result in a terrible waste of "life time." As for me, I'm pro "real life."  Clayton Shaw, Adoptee

“If you were in my shoes, how would you respond to that question?” Jason Darnieder, Adoptee

To me, it feels like another, deeper rejection to be told that. What's worse...adoption or death? Sometimes we might wonder, but to be told yet again to be grateful just makes me cringe...” ~ Claire Hitchon, Adoptee

“I’m most certainly not grateful that I wasn't aborted. I would have rather been aborted! My mom would have saved me a life of PTSD, pain, rage, etc. There are ONLY two reasons I'm glad she didn't terminate -- my beautiful kids and my hubby. Other than that, I wish she would have terminated the pregnancy!  In my opinion I was killed inside the day I was handed to strangers. Now, because she didn't terminate, I'm forced to live with this trauma, this pain. Death is better than adoption.” Megan Alcala, Adoptee

“Used to be very pro-life. Never thought I would switch to pro choice but I have. Though both adoption and abortion seem equal in a odd sort of way. In both, the child is "thrown away". In adoption the pain just lasts a hell of a lot longer. Just my personal take on it.” Tracey Michelle Banks Combs, Adoptee

“I'm not glad I wasn't aborted. I don't necessarily waste my days wishing NOT to be alive, but I don't remember the time before my birth sucking--while the time after sure as hell did.” Renee Lynne

“I remember being young and being told I should be grateful that I wasn't aborted and it made me feel no matter what my feelings were at the time, I was wrong. I had a real hard time when I was younger accepting that I was loved because it made me feel like I was being thrown away. I went through a depression when I was younger to the point that I wanted to end it because I felt like I was disappointing everyone around me because I was unhappy. At the time I wasn't aware how to put my feelings to words... heck, even now I have a hard time sometimes.” Erica Manor, Adoptee

“All my life I wish my birth mother would have aborted me. I was adopted into a great well-to-do family that had nothing to do with my feelings about being aborted. But now I thank God she didn't --when I look at my 23 year old son, I thank her. I'm still depressed over a lot of issues. I am against abortion now because of my beliefs. I had one 2 years ago and regret it now.”  Rhandie Lee Long, Adoptee

“When you (meaning the pro-life crowd) say that I should be thankful that I wasn't aborted, it implies that I should be more thankful than average to be loved, to be alive, etc. In other words, you're forcefully trying to frame MY experience. You're telling me how to feel about something extremely complex and fundamental.  I firmly believe that healthy humans on some level believe that their lives are inherently valuable. Adoptees struggle with feelings of being inherently replaceable, that no one will ever love us in an enduring way. Most people who are raised and loved by their biological parents aren't missing this fundamental piece of the puzzle. Statements about abortion dredge up the fundamental "not worthy of love" feeling. Today, I just respond back that I would have rather she aborted than experience the emotional issues I face. That's not necessarily how I really feel, but it ends the conversation pretty quickly.”  Katie Theobold-McKinsey, Adoptee

Because at times I wish I had been aborted. Also, once you're here that comment absolutely doesn't help, it feels as though it belittles the pain we go through as adoptees.” Esther Tout, Adoptee

“I can speak from my own experience. Telling anyone how they"should feel" about anything is a controlling, shame tactic. It always backfires. I personally have gone so far into depression that I tried to take my life on more than one occasion.” Susan Kate Barrett, Adoptee


Deanna’s Perspective:

These are just a few of the hundreds of comments I've received  this week when I asked adoptees about this subject. 

One of the goals I have for this blog is to expand the Christian understanding of adoption. Many Christians have a hard time understanding why anyone who is adopted would not be pro-life. 

Most of my friends in the adoptee community are pro-choice.  I am pro-life but make a habit of listening to the viewpoint of others who may not share my beliefs, to try and gain understanding.

I have talked in depth with pro-choice adoptee friends about this issue. I appreciate their friendship and openness to share with me and at the end of the day respect and love one another.   

If I had a dime for every time someone admonished me to be grateful I wasn’t aborted, I’d probably have the Mustang convertible I covet want.

I recently shared my story at a conference in another state. Afterwards, a woman approached me, wagging her finger at me as she sternly said, “All I have to say in response to your message is that you better be glad Plan B didn’t exist when you were conceived, or you’d be dead!”  

And with that, she spun on her heel and walked away. 
That was it.

 No, “thanks for coming to our church,” or “good message…” Just telling me that she somehow knows what my mother, who she does not know, would have done if she were pregnant in 2013 versus 1965.  

When becoming an active part of the adoptee community, I discovered that apparently the majority of adoptees hear that they need to be grateful they weren't aborted.

It’s not helpful at all.


And some say… 

“Why isn’t it helpful?”
“Don’t they see the truth?”
“Can they see how deceived they are?”
“They may not have had a chance at life!” 

For those who have absolutely no idea how or why an adoptee would not find any of these statements helpful, please -- allow me to educate you. 

Maybe they didn’t want a chance at life.
Perhaps they still don’t.

In many cases, you’re telling people to be glad they weren’t aborted, when some of them wish they were.

No, not all of them.

If you are an adoptee who does not feel that way and has never felt that way  please, don’t send me a plethora of emails telling me that.  

I already know that everyone doesn’t feel that way. 
Adoptees aren’t cookie cutters.
But many do feel that way, for a variety of reasons. 

For these, the adopted life has been so painful, they (sometimes or in some cases always) wish they never had the chance at life that you speak of.

So, you’re telling people to be glad they’re living when some of them didn’t want to live, or still don’t want to.

You try to convince them, without walking the road they have walked. 
You quote scripture at them when some of them don't even believe in God or the Bible.
And they walk away feeling nothing but judged and misunderstood.


“Well, that’s just wrong. They need to see how beautiful life is. They need to value life. They need to have an attitude adjustment…they need to have their mind renewed…the spirit of suicide is on them...”

Again, not helpful.

Life is not always beautiful.
Sometimes it’s hard. 

Life may feel unbearable to the person you are talking to, and a judgmental bashing will never heal the ache in their heart.

Statistics Don't Lie

Common issues that adoptees struggle with are depression, anxiety, attachment issues, self worth, rejection, addictions, post traumatic stress disorder, identity issues, ADHD, complex trauma, complicated grief, eating disorders, significant loss, suicide and more. Adoptees are greatly over-represented in treatment centers.  

A recent article at Adoption Voices declared that adoptees make up less than 2% of the US population, yet they represent 25-35% of teens in correctional camps and institutions.

Not a week goes by when I don’t hear of an adoptee suicide or attempted suicide. In fact, just last week some of the adoptees who are readers/commenters at Adoptee Restoration  reached out to me to try and help save an adoptee who was in the process of committing suicide.  She posted a goodbye note to us on Facebook and proceeded to attempt to take her life. Through the help of adoptees on Facebook who worked together in the crisis, the police in her city were quickly contacted. They found her in time and rushed her to the hospital. She is now recovering from the attempt, which just happens to be one of several times she has tried to end her life.

Another Adoptee Restoration reader was actually GRATEFUL for a recent cancer diagnosis. She was excited that this prognosis may be her exit from this world sooner rather than later. This adoptee is Christian who is strongly opposed to suicide,  but wouldn’t fight it if something unforseen happened to take her sooner.

Getting Personal

How do I feel about it?

Abortion wasn't legal when I was born, and even if it was, my first mother wouldn't have done it, for several reasons, the foremost being fear. I don't think it would have been so much that she cared about me, but that she would have been too scared to have an illegal abortion...more scared than giving birth. I think for her, giving birth to me was the lesser of two fears.  She lived in overwhelming fear of lots of things. Most people who know me seem to be glad she was too afraid to do something that was illegal at the time.

I know she grew to love me, after time had passed. But of course I do think about all of the variables. There are times I have wrestled with the thought, "You're only here because your mother was too scared to illegally abort you..." and then God speaks to me and says, "No, you're here because I want you here." 

Listening to God's voice is really important to me, for many reasons...this one being at the top of the list.

I am happy with my life now – with my husband, children and many friends. I live a contented – even a wonderful life. I've managed to achieve some things despite all this - not because of it.  I've gotten a lot of help and it has done wonders. But, there have been moments of deep anguish on the journey. I blogged about some of those times of the past in this post here.  (And Adoption Voices Magazine has asked to re-print that post. Be watching for it next week!)

More recently…

On February 28, 2013,  my bio mother said things to me, all of which  I haven’t even blogged about.   
There are things only my therapist and close friends have heard. 
Words no daughter should ever have to hear.

 Moments after we hung up from that dreadful call, I fell over in despair, crying, "God, why did you allow me to live?"
It's not the first time I've asked this question.  

I tend to ask Him why He allowed me to be in the world, when the pain is greatest.
Please don’t misunderstand, there are reasons I’m glad I’m here. Ben and Jerry's Fudge Brownie Ice Cream. Pajama parties with my husband. Cafe Con Leche. Mani's and Pedi's.  Massages. Purses. Shoes.
Namely my husband and kids. 
And anyone’s life I’ve had a part in touching in a positive way. 

I want to be here. 
I hope I'm here for a long time! 
 That's why I eat oatmeal these days instead of eggs over easy and grits drowning in butter.

But there are moments of weakness when I wondered why God allowed me to go through some of the things I have faced when any other option seemed so much easier than living through it.

I felt His comforting presence that night in February and He assured me once again of His purpose for my life. As I wept from the depths of my soul I said, “Okay God, I accept that. I embrace Your purpose. And, I will also forgive her but I’ll need Your help. I can't do this on my own. I don’t want revenge on her, but I do want relief. I am desperate for You."

He gave me relief in the form of Himself and other people --  my therapist Melissa, and family and friends and my church that surrounded me. He gave me those of you who read here and are so kind and encouraging.

I did ask Him for revenge on one person. I wanted and still want revenge on the devil.  Yes, I'm one of "those" Christians who believe in the devil. I said, “God you’ve done amazing things in my life but I need more.  I’m asking for outrageous revenge on enemy. I want to make the biggest dent ever in his arena. Whatever that means, make it happen.”  

He said, “Okay! I’ll give it to you.” Yes, God talks to me THAT way. That’s how we roll.

I pray daily for God to give me fresh revelation, strength and anointing to carry out His purpose for me in the earth. 

Christians, pro-lifers, I’m trying to get you to understand the level of desperation and pain some people feel who are adopted. And I beg you, change your tactics if you’re telling them to just be glad they weren’t aborted. 

This isn’t helping anything at all.  

New Strategy:

Say This..

“I’m so glad there’s you.”

"You're amazing!" 

“If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen.” (Then do it. No judgment.)

“I’m holding you close in my heart.”

“You’re important to me.”

“You are loved.”

“You are valued.”

“You are important to me.”

“I’m happy I know you.”

“I’m so glad you’re in my world.”

"God loves you and I love you and there's nothing you can do about it."