Adopted = Replaceable


“If we hadn’t gotten you, someone else would have!” That is what Dad shouted when, at the age of fourteen, I said I wanted to find my birth mother. He was making a huge leap, assuming I thought they had stolen me somehow, and that my adoption never would have happened if not for them. He was speaking from a place of fear, and though I understood that even in the moment, the words were like a slap across the face. I was replaceable.

It is often said adoptees feel abandoned. But I never felt abandoned. I have felt alone. I have felt ignored. But I have never felt as though I was just dumped, left behind. During National Adoption Month, adoption, of course, is *the answer* for all those babies languishing without a family.

Babies do not long for an adoptive family. They long for their original mother, however flawed she may be. We are hardwired to look for our mother, the one whose voice and scent we recognize at birth. When the life-source cannot be found, babies emotionally shut down as a matter of survival. Infant adoptees are often described by social workers as “quiet”, almost never crying, seemingly well-adjusted.

Babies do not pine for a substitute to their birth mother. They want their mother, period. Their psyches and their bodies instinctively ache for her. If a woman dies in childbirth, the child is expected to grieve the loss the rest of their lives. If a baby is separated from their mother at birth by adoption, that is something they just need to get over. If the child whose mother died was given to a substitute, no one would think the loss was any less. But if the mother lived and an adoption took place, the loss is ignored, even violently denied.

Chosen. We were chosen. That’s the line we’re fed along with the inferior baby formula. I was told this by others – not my adoptive parents, who were a more pragmatic sort. But if you can be chosen, you can be un-chosen. One of the most terrifying dreams I had as a child was that I was put in a camp, a sort of clearinghouse for rejected adoptees. I could see my adoptive parents serenely shopping for a new daughter; I cried out to them, “Adoption is forever! It’s supposed to be forever!” but they couldn’t see or hear me. I had been un-chosen. I no longer existed.

Re-homing is real.

How do these adoptees feel about their “forever family”? Were they “languishing,” waiting for that magical moment when someone claimed them as their own? Did they not have a name, an identity, a life, before that point?

Yes, there are thousands of children in foster care who can never be reunited with their biological family. It is a tragedy. And those children should have a permanent, safe home. But that does not mean their past should be wiped out and kept from them. It does not even necessarily mean they need to be adopted. Adoption is not a panacea. Adoption does not magically fix anything. Adoption begins with trauma. The first and most important bond a child has must be severed for adoption to happen. People don’t like hearing this. They want to hear the words: grateful, forever family, chosen.

I was not chosen. I knew my adoptive parents loved me and wanted me, but it was just happenstance that landed me in their midst. We could say it was God, but I’d rather not blame God for also providing me with a base psychopathic brother, who was also “chosen.” I lived my life in fear of being sent away. Even in my picture-perfect family during the happiest of times, that thought was always in the back of my mind. I was replaceable. And I knew it.

Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread and contributor to The Adoptee Survival Guide.


twitter: @ElleCuardaigh






One thought on “Adopted = Replaceable

  1. From Kevin, via email

    Comment: “When the life-source cannot be found, babies emotionally shut down as a matter of survival. Adoptees are often described by social workers as ‘quiet’, almost never crying, seemingly well-adjusted. I believe this is the reason why.”

    This actually describes me exactly. Those very words are in my non-identifying report from the agency. Shutting down emotionally has always been my default defense mechanism, even into adulthood, and it’s something I am working to change.

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