Adoption – Spoken and Unspoken Stigma

Why should my daughter be ashamed or traumatized by the fact that she was adopted?

When I made the decision to adopt my wonderful little girl, I was ill prepared for the curiosity my decision would attract from society at large. I knew people would be curious about the decision to adopt as a single woman, but I made the assumption that we are all familiar with adoption in itself and how to handle adopted children.

I was also ill prepared for the realization that the Kenyan society likes to pretend that adoption does not happen, something I promised in my last post to talk about. We have stigmatized adoption by associating it, and tightly winding it around the stigma associated with the inability to have children.. Even more stigmatized are single adoptive parents. There’s a forgone conclusion that when single people adopt a child, they have either failed to find a spouse, or have serious issues that make them un-marriageable. It has become more and more apparent in my adoptive parenting journey, that Kenyans find it hard to imagine that a single person who hopes to one day be married could choose to give a child a home, or that a couple who have biological children can adopt a baby with no ulterior motive.

Because of this stigma, when faced with it, we want to pretend that an adoption did not happen. I see this in my various conversations about adoption. Every once in a while a brave soul will ask me – “So can you have ‘your own’ children?”. If I’m feeling cheeky, I respond and tell them that I have my own child – my daughter Sani. They then awkwardly realize their error and rephrase it to ask if I can have children biologically. This is generally quite an awkward question to ask anyone no matter how close you are. I actually don’t know if I can have a biological child. I have never tried to have one. Adoption was my first choice. The question that unfailingly follows this one is – So will you have biological kids? My answer to that is often as baffling to the person: “I don’t know. I don’t think so. Do I have to have a biological child?” Such conversations leave me feeling like adoption is second rated in our community. It is viewed, as something done when everything fails; as a last and desperate resort. And sadly it is further viewed something to keep hidden.

This brings me to the second type of loaded conversation around adoption……… Every so often, someone will comment that my daughter and I look very alike (something biological parents rarely hear unless it is a relative comparing if the child bears more resemblance to the mother or father). The comment is quickly followed by the question; “will you tell her she is adopted?” The more direct ones will “advise” me not to tell her she is adopted because she already looks like me. I marvel at these pieces of advice……………Of course I will tell my daughter she is adopted. Why wouldn’t I? Why pretend adoption didn’t happen? Why would a parent want to lie to their child? Why would they create a foundation based on such lack of integrity? Why should my daughter be ashamed or traumatized by the fact that she was adopted?

As adoptive parents and society at large, our view of adoption affects how our children will view their parentage, and their identity. We need to actively stop viewing adoption as something that should be done, quickly covered up and followed by lifelong pretense that it did not happen. The stigma around adoption, whether done by single parents or couples should cease forthwith. We need to stop viewing adopted children as different from biological children. Adopted children are OUR OWN children. Adoption is not an act of charity driven by pity. It is a gift of love that keeps giving. I can honestly say that my daughter has done more for me than I could ever do for her. Finally, an adopted child is not a substitute for the biological child you cannot have, have chosen not to have, or are waiting to have.

My Sani is not my waiting plan as I wait to get married and have biological children. NO – she is my first child, my own child.

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