The morning after I was born, a social worker carried me from the hospital nursery down the hall to meet my adoptive parents for the first time. As I was placed into my new mother’s eager arms, I’m sure all the adults smiled with joy. This was the happy beginning of my story.
Or so the narrative went.
In reality, my start was more complex. Though my adoptive childhood was idyllic, adoption also brought profound loss. I was raised in a nurturing home, yet challenges emerged over time. Untangling the two threads of privilege and grief has been a lifelong journey.
My path illustrates the nuances often missing from adoption discourse. On one side, advocacy organisations paint rosy portraits of adoption as a win-win. Critics, conversely, decry all adoption as trauma. My truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Yes, adoption brought me the gift of family. It also severed me from my roots at the most vulnerable stage of life. Internalising these dual truths was key to integrating my adoptee identity.
An ideal childhood
By all accounts, my adoptive parents provided the gold standard of parenting. They doted on me as if I were their own flesh and blood. Our home overflowed with laughter, encouragement, and daily warm hugs.
My parents were older professionals who struggled with infertility prior to adopting me. They regarded my arrival as their long-awaited miracle. Their delight shone through in small moments of connection.
I never once questioned if I belonged. My parents tied their greatest hopes to my potential. This instilled in me confidence and drive from a young age.
Their emotional and material resources allowed me to flourish. I was enrolled in the best schools and engaged in enriching activities. I developed my talents with top-notch instruction. My parents were my cheerleaders, celebrating each goal I accomplished.
By any objective measure, I experienced advantages. My network expanded to include not only my parents but a vast extended family. Holidays and milestones were marked with lavish traditions. I wanted for nothing.
Outwardly, I embodied the poster child for adoption success. On the inside, however, I harboured a lingering unrest.
Wounds from disconnection
Despite my parents’ dedicated love, adoption also marked me as a loss. As an infant, I was separated from the woman who carried me. Our bond was severed without the chance to unfold naturally.
Though this break was necessary and done with care, it left a painful imprint. Even under optimal conditions, adoption involves a form of trauma. My psyche retained the memory of unwanted disconnection.
This manifested in sensations of persistent insecurity. Without words, my body and nervous system expressed the stress of abrupt separation after birth. No matter how loved I was, I continued seeking the elusive primal attachment.
These unconscious effects took years to recognise. Initially, I repressed my feelings and focused solely on pleasing my adoptive parents. I aimed to be the ideal daughter to ensure I would not lose another family.
The harder I worked to earn love, the more empty I felt inside. My true emotions lay buried under layers of performance. Numb depression and anxiety gradually emerged in my 20s.
My parents and myself through therapy
I began to acknowledge and process these subconscious wounds. I discovered that my perfectionism defended against feared abandonment. My early loss imprinted a deep vulnerability.
Owning these truths conflicted with my gratitude for my parents. I resisted viewing adoption as anything less than a fairytale ending. Letting in the hurt meant acknowledging the tragic within the joyful.
I feared that admitting sadness and anger would invalidate my family’s love. Only through time and courage did I make space for my authentic range of emotions. I came to understand that I could honour my parents while releasing fantasies that adoption erased all hardship.
Integrating the dual narratives of gift and loss allowed me to fully own my experience. I stopped fracturing myself into a perfect daughter versus a hurt child. My life’s complexity became a source of meaning rather than shame.
Healing through openness
In my 30s, I took the vulnerable step of reconnecting with my birthmother, Deborah. Trepidation almost held me back, but my longing for answers won out.
Meeting Deborah filled gaps that years of therapy never could. We marvelled at our similarities, from our shared hands to the parallel scars on our chins. She helped me comprehend where my tendencies towards anxiety originated. I saw her inherent goodness despite past struggles.
The reunion brought validation. I gained peace knowing Deborah cared deeply, though she was unable to parent at the time. My early separation reflected circumstances, not a rejection of me.
Through openness, I claimed my full history. No longer split between two mothers, I integrated the female lineage of both. Healing emerged from no longer repressing a piece of myself.
Nurturing my own children
Later in life, I became a mother myself. My children became my heartbeat and purpose. Their arrival unearthed previously dormant feelings about my infant adoption experience.
When I nursed my babies, primal emotions arose. My breasts biologically knew their intended purpose of sustaining life. I imagine Deborah’s body understood the same. Though necessary, our separation defied natural design.
Watching my children grow, I contemplated all that Deborah missed. That was her flesh growing inside me. She should have witnessed first steps and laughed at silly jokes. I mourned her missing pieces.
Through this lens, I felt greater compassion for all that she endured. I shed previously held judgements about her choices. Instead, I hoped to forge a relationship based on gratitude.
Healing as a continual process
Now in mid-life, I no longer seek perfection or fear vulnerability. My experiences have granted me emotional depth and resilience.
On this lifelong path, the pivots were acknowledging complexity, opening up to hard truths, and connecting with compassion. For me and many adoptees, healing is an ongoing process rather than a destination.
I share my nuanced narrative in hopes of broadening the adoption dialogue. All sides become brittle when the discourse flattens. My goal is to lean into the wholeness of my story.
Adoption gifted me family and opportunity. It also caused a psychic tear, painful in its own way. Holding both truths releases me from fragmentation. I am free to walk forward as a fully integrated woman.
Though my life includes loss, it is also rich with meaning. Adoption does not define me, though it has coloured my journey. From this vantage point, I am no longer lost.
Amelia Davidson is an adoptee and licensed clinical social worker with over 10 years of experience providing mental health counselling and advocacy for adoption-impacted individuals. She holds a master’s degree in social work from New York University.