Recently I was in a situation where I met several people at one time. We were all strangers to each other so nobody knew who I was or any of the details of my life either professionally or personally. I tend to be nervous going into these types of situations. I feel awkward sometimes even in social situations with people I know well.

On this occasion I had convinced myself that I would just be me and hope that it would be enough to be accepted. While doing introductions (that dreaded moment where you introduce yourself and tell a little about yourself), I was open about my accomplishments and passion for adoptee rights and adoption reform. Throughout interactions, I had the opportunity to talk about adoption and recent successes and setbacks in reform and legislative activities. I also talked about the complexity and emotional components of adoption openly.

Eventually, someone asked how I had become involved in this movement. I sort of froze in that moment and suddenly I felt small. I knew as soon as I said “I’m adopted,” they would know. They would know that my mom gave me away.

Adoption Shame

This situation sent me straight back to being seven and wanting to deliver the playground speech. You know the one where you follow up “I’m adopted” with, “well you know my mom loved me so much. She wanted me to have a better life.” I wanted to cover over the shame by reasoning it out for them. I wanted them to know I was worthy of love just like those who had been kept by their moms.

Really, I just didn’t want them to know how ashamed I still feel, even as an adult. I’m an adult who can speak openly and loudly on all types of issues within adoption, but I still felt shame to say those words – to have someone know my mom didn’t keep me. I haven’t had to tell anyone in such a long time, the feeling that accompanied those words surprised me.

As soon as I said “I’m adopted,” my new acquaintances responded with blank faces. I felt like they felt sorry for me, and I sure as hell didn’t want sympathy. When people feel sorry for others, it’s easier to be dismissive of that person. Maybe they weren’t trying to be dismissive, but I felt like I was losing ground in having the legitimate voice I previously had while speaking on adoption issues and it made me angry. I was angry at the adoption industry which sells the idea that adoption is beautiful, but then leaves people feeling sympathy for those that are adopted. I was angry that the language we are taught as adoptees actually further the ideas of sympathy for the adopted. I was angry at myself for having a strong voice, yet letting my own insecurities quiet me.

I decided to grab my power back as fast I possibly could. Instead of delivering the playground speech, I said, “Sometimes people dismiss the voices of people who are adopted when it comes to adoption issues and reform. They think we’re too close to the issue have a valid and objective opinion, but it’s because we are so close to the issue that makes our viewpoints credible. We lived it.”

One of the people listening piped up quickly. “I could see that. They think you have too much skin in the game so they won’t listen to you.” He got it! The ‘poor you’ look disappeared and his look changed to one of respect. More questions came but, I felt stronger and ready.

Perspective is a funny thing. I certainly felt shame and maybe it is something I will carry with me each time I have to tell another new person that I’m adopted. I was definitely reminded of the power of shame and how it can affect us. But I also reminded myself that I’m not seven anymore.

Shame is powerful but my voice has the power to overcome it.

14 thoughts on “Shame

  1. Yan

    I am still looking for that reclamation of power you’ve found, but it’s really good to see where it’s coming from.

    The insight about sympathy for adoptees is also kind of eye-opening. I hadn’t thought of it just that way before, but I know I’m always on the defensive when I have to “out” myself as an adoptee. It’s not that it’s a secret I keep. It’s the reactions. So much to think about!

    1. Kat Post author

      Yan, It’s so difficult. Even after I think I’ve found that power, I still wonder if I will have that voice in all situations. It is different every time we have to tell someone. Sometimes I think we can take a stand and other times, it is such a struggle. I know I still carry shame. I think it’s a combination of the reactions of others and my own reaction to them that determine whether I’m left feeling small or empowered. Adoption – truly the gift that keeps giving.

  2. Samantha

    Kat, thank you so much for writing about this subject as an adult adoptee. It does seem true that when we share about our status as an adopted person that people look in sympathy and silence. We are seen as perpetual children rather than adults.
    I think the very fact that our records are amended and sealed plays in to this situation. We are defined by our adopted identity, and to breach the gap into our wholeness, our biological connection, our realness, it layers shame upon us because of the attempted erasure of who we are as whole human-beings in order to fulfill an order for the adoption industry.

    1. Kat Post author

      Annette, All of what you said – so true! There is so much complexity in those emotions and over time, it has worn me down at times.
      I keep thinking about the language we are handed as kids. “Your mom loved you so much.” “You are special/chosen.” Those words and ideas echo empty to me. The truth was my mom was in a bad situation with little to no support and we don’t have a system in place to help women. Of course the adoption industry (meaning agency directors, social workers, attorneys, guardian ad litems, judges who sit on adoption agency boards etc.) is never going to use honest language like that. So much easier to launder that money through “love.”

  3. Annette

    Shame is such a deep familiar feeling etched into our cells. While in the womb I believe it likely started as our mothers were shunned and they were possibly ( likely) pressured to feel shame for getting caught pregnant before the ideal time. Then once we are separated from her and in government care we may sense shame from everywhere. Then once adopted we pick up on if our adoptive moms feel shame in them whether they are real moms or not, and shame in not being able to produce their own baby naturally. So really it makes sense that shame is the old familiar feeling that we are really used to. Its normal for us to go there. I really feel like shame has become the worst cycle of abuse that we adoptees need to change for ourselves and our children. I really had to watch for perfectionism and control issues and feeling ashamed of my kids. It is not productive or helpful. This shame has got to go!! We have not done anything wrong. I know there also may be shame in not being the person that the adoptive parents wanted. Its not ours to take on though so I hope we learn that we need to be real and honest and not be ashamed of ourselves. Guilt is a valid feeling only if you have done something wrong. Society is guilty of shaming girls to hand over their babies to redeem the child and the mom. We are the victims of the collective whole. Our moms are also victims. They were not educated on their importance or impact this would have on them and us. We have nothing to be ashamed of because we have nothing to really be guilty for.

    1. Elizabeth

      Shame….such a part of many birth mothers experiences as well. It’s interesting to me that even though I have a good reunion with my surrendered son and he has told me there is nothing to forgive, I still feel shame at having relinquished him in the first place. I’ve found that telling of my loss has helped reduce shame some but I often wonder what could make it go away. Maybe nothing but I think reclaiming power could be a good start!

      1. Kat Post author

        Elizabeth, Shame is just so strong and I think we are so tied to that emotion because this is just such a huge part of us. It’s about our mothers or our children. The biggest parts of what we will be sensitive about throughout our lifetime. I definitely don’t know how I’ll feel next time I have to tell another new person that I’m adopted. I have a feeling that my familiar friend/foe ‘shame’ will be there knocking and I’m unsure of my reaction. My voice worked this time but I don’t know if it will the next time. I guess this will be something I’ll grapple with throughout my life.
        Thank you so much for all your comments throughout this month. You have added a different perspective yet been encouraging to the adoptee voices here. I want you to know how much I sincerely appreciate it. <3

  4. Sophi Fletcher

    Thank you so much for voicing the thoughts and feelings I have carried for so long! I only wish I could get my birthmother to read this. (She refuses any contact with me, so that is highly unlikely). When I was a child and the subject of being adopted would come up, the word always stuck in my throat. I could feel a familiar knot in my stomach just reading about your own situation! Thankfully, there are more and more of us who are speaking up and speaking out, sharing blogs like this, writing blogs and essays and books, and telling whoever will listen that things are not always as they seem. Keep up the good work!!

    1. Kat Post author

      Thank you Sophi. I really hope you are able to get your mom to listen eventually. Like you, I am so thankful for all our adoptee brothers and sisters that are willing to share their voices in any manner. They all let us know we aren’t alone.
      Hugs to you!

  5. Ariel

    Always carry yourself strong Kat! You’re awesome and adoption is never the child’s fault. My heart ached for you when I read that your mom had children before and after you because I can see how that would make those feelings so much worse, but you are just as worth keeping. I’m so sorry you would feel otherwise. It is funny, though, how our culture says adoption is the greatest but people instinctively know that it’s not the first choice.

    Also, I am blown away by anyone who braves the public and openly discusses their role in adoption. I relinquished so I am far more deserving of the reactions I get, but I’m a coward who only discusses it within the comfort of this community.

    1. Kat Post author

      Ariel, I’ll be the first to say that I’ve never thought of you as a coward. Actually quite opposite. I’d describe you as a ‘brave voice willing to strip back the lies and show truth to all who will listen. A sensitive soul who is concerned with the feelings of others, but none more so than those of your own son.’ Of course, I also realize that adoption completely fucks with us and leaves many of us adoptees and first moms (and maybe even some adoptive parents) questioning ourselves.
      Thank you for all of your comments and encouragement this month. I consider you one to be one of my most cherished friends in our community and I feel honored to know you. <3

  6. Cindy A.

    Thank you Kat for your strength and for teaching us the way to go forward when that flood of shame washes over us.


  7. Cate

    This is such a great site.
    I used Cat as a moniker for years. Now I use Cate.
    Anyway, it’s late and I need to get some sleep. But I intend to go through your blog in every detail tomorrow. I’m about 3/4 through so far.
    I’ve been hoping to find some insights into my daughters behavior. You’re the closest I’ve ever found, been searching blogs for months. Been out of ‘the fog’ for less than a year.
    Open adoption, she’s 21, beautiful, cool, cold. I think she’s as numb as I was at the same age, but because of adoption instead of atrocious natural parents. Her AP’s are good people so that worked out at least.
    Ironic I still scarred her heart when it was precisely the thing I was trying to avoid.
    I hoped I was getting her away and safe from my dysfunctional family, but just perpetuated a different pattern of grief and pain on her. So terribly twisted. So regretted.
    Enraging to have been suckered in to it at all. My mother thinks nothing of it. It’s all wonderful. I wish she’d fought for me to keep my child, I wish she’d given the fuck-you-sign to society instead of pandering to it’s warped logic. She should have fought for her daughter like I should have fought for my own. A lifetime of replaying the thought processes of untold stupidity, resentment and regret.
    I want to get through to my daughter’s heart. I want to warm it, mend it, turn it red with blood pouring through it easily. Not this thick, icy blue crap we both have. It’s no way to live.
    More than anything in this world she need’s to have a healed heart, I have to do it for my own sense of peace which is so impossible to find without her. I dream of having her in my life, as often as my kept darling ones. I think of her every hour. It’s exhausting to want something so much.


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