Imagine everything you thought you knew to be true was a lie. Imagine the parents you loved (or hated, or both) had deceived you your entire life, either with outright untruths, or lies of omission. And not about some small thing that can be compartmentalized, but something that permeates everything: Your origin.
This is what some adoptees must deal with. They find out when they’re a teen, or going into the service, or parents themselves, or at the funeral of their mother or father, or (more and more commonly) after doing a DNA test, that their identities have been based upon a lie. And let me stop you right there if you are objecting to your computer screen. Systematic lying, even with silence, is still lying. No matter how “noble” the reasons for doing it, it is still wrong. It is a betrayal that many can never recover from.
The lengths people will go to to “protect” the adoptee from the truth are incredible. An unforgettable story in “Being Adopted – The Lifelong Search For Self” by Brodzinsky, Schecter, and Henig (1993), a woman called Mildred said she felt so different from her family her entire life that she wondered if she was adopted. Not only her parents, but everyone she knew assured her she was born to them, and they encouraged her to see a therapist about this delusional obsession. She did. A few years later, as the mother lay dying, she called her now 58 year old daughter to her side and said:
“You were right. You are adopted.”
HA HA! April Fool! Isn’t that just a riot? And here she had it all figured out, even with the entire world telling her she was delusional (and probably ungrateful), and she went to the time and expense and humiliation of seeing a therapist, and the whole time…it was true! Oh, I bet she and her adoptive mother had a good laugh over that. I bet it made for a heartwarming moment in the eulogy later.
(I hope my sarcasm is strong enough for everyone to catch.)
This is something so prevalent in the adoption community, there is even an acronym for it: LDA, for Late Discovery Adoptee. It’s the ultimate in having the rug pulled out from under you. I have met several, and the common thread in the aftermath has been: “I thought you knew,” or “We promised not to tell,” both of which are bullshit.
Here are four LDA stories out of England:
Jeff Hancock, co-contributor to The Adoptee Survival Guide, writes with painful accuracy of his experience before and after discovering he was adopted. The quote he opens with is spot-on:
“The worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth.”
This does not apply to the classic adoptee alone. This also goes for the “half-adoptee,” usually when an adoptive father is passed off as the biological father. and the mother is the only mother. Sometimes an official adoption never took place. Sometimes the man does not know he is not the biological father. Or he knows and gallantly took the child as his own and said nothing. This may sound noble, but keeping someone from the truth is not protecting them.
A “half-adoptee” I know was made an LDA in adulthood, after she was accused of defrauding the government concerning who she was made to believe was her father. Confronting her mother, the apology was: “I figured it was too late to tell you.” Translation: “Yes, you could have gone to prison, but it was more important to me to keep lying.”
That’s the problem with telling a lie. You have to keep telling it. Until it is layer upon layer of deceit, woven in with enough truth to pass it off as honesty. LDAs can tell you, no matter the reason for telling the lie in the first place, it is not good enough. It is not “done in love.” The secrets and lies that proliferate in adoption are not funny.
People should not be made to feel like perpetual April Fools. They deserve the truth.