It's National Adoption Week and reading blogs this week, I'm interested to see how many other people there are who, like me, were adopted as children. It's weirdly common – I suspect that in the 1970s social workers were far more willing to take children from 'bad' mothers and place them for adoption with 'good' families.
For me, adoption was never a big deal. I'm sure it's shaped my personality in some ways, but then I expect people raised in any environment are shaped by it – there's nothing inherently tragic or dramatic about it, I don't think.
Still, I think sometimes other people have a fascinating view of adoption. They say stuff that's weird. Like:
“Once upon a time there was a little girl with two Mummies, who both loved her very much…”
I was born to a 16-year-old Mum who wasn’t really equipped for marriage and parenthood, so I was taken into foster care when I was about a year old. I moved between foster care placements before ending up in a long-term placement with the family that ended up adopting me. My Mum (as she became) was a social worker and a big believer in using stories to help me come to terms with my background. I was a big believer in stories about adventures and mountains and rockets. I still remember how much I hated that stupid 'two Mummies' story.
“If you stop kicking me, we’ll take you home.”
During my years in foster care, I was terrified of being taken away from my family. I have a pretty positive view of adoption, but I do find it bizarre that I was left in foster care limbo for the best part of nine years. One day a young married couple who were friends with my Mum took me to a pottery for a day out. On the way home, they made an unexpected detour to their home, and I became convinced I was being given to new parents. I turned into a miniature shrieking, kicking demon until they got my Mum on the phone to reassure me that, no, she hadn’t actually given me away.
“You’ll be much more fun when you’ve been adapted.”
My older brothers told me I was being adapted at the court house, and that this might involve surgical instruments. And it would hurt even more than that time they collapsed a deckchair on my fingers and the time they cycled down a steep hill with me on the bike handlebars, straight into a wall, just to see how far I’d travel. Older brothers are evil, aren’t they?
“Yes, I know the judge asked if you wanted a new name, but we are NOT going to call you Steve.”
I was 10 years old when I was adopted. I got a day off school, but I remember being utterly outraged at having to wear a skirt to go to court on the big day. And I had to change my surname to Whittle, which meant I would of course be known as “Little Whittle” for the rest of my days. Frankly, I felt being able to call myself Steve was the LEAST I deserved.
“How does it feel to be fifteen?”
I know lots of people who are adopted feel a burning need to discover their roots and connect with their birth families, but I never did. My birth mother got in touch when I was a teenager because my younger half-sister wanted to send me a letter. During a really awkward phone call, she asked me how it felt to be 15. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d just turned 16. Maybe this explains why I felt I had the best possible family already, and I didn't need to hunt down a new one.
“You can’t tell.”
What one of my friends at university told me when I mentioned that I was adopted. I’m still not entirely sure what she expected in terms of ‘evidence’ of adoption – purple hair? A special t-shirt? Periodic bouts of weeping?
“You’re special because you were chosen.”
This is one of those lines that gets trotted out all the time about adoption. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said it to me over the years. I don’t know how other adopted people feel about it, but I hate it. Because every time you tell me I was chosen, I think about how before I was chosen I was ‘not chosen’ by the people in the world who are basically genetically programmed to like you best. Which isn't exactly a cheery thought. Rationally, of course I know that I had a better life in every possible way because I was adopted, and I’m profoundly grateful that I was given that opportunity. But I don’t think it makes me special. Just lucky.