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.
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.