What It REALLY Feels Like To Be Adopted

The more you know.

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By: Erin McKelle

I’m adopted.

It’s one of those things that has been a major force in shaping my identity, but that’s hard to talk about authentically almost anywhere. 

In truth, I actually like telling people about being adopted and how that’s shaped my family dynamic. I think it can explain a lot about who I am, and even why I became the person that I am. But sometimes it can be awkward — sometimes it seems like too personal of a subject to bring up over lunch.


I know a lot of you may have considered (or are considering) adopting, are adopted yourselves, or at the very least know someone who is. I find so many of the ideas about what it’s like to be adopted are just wrong and unrealistic. So let’s go there.

Adoption Is Not A Party

One of the first things people often say to me when they find out I’m adopted is, “That’s so awesome!” While I appreciate the sentiment, it can be hard to then explain why it doesn’t always feel so awesome.

Listen, adoption is usually not that pleasant of an experience for anyone involved, except maybe the adopted parents. Sorry to ruin your fantasies, but it’s the truth. Being adopted has lead me to have a lot of identity issues, and I know from talking with many other adopted people that this often is also true for them.


Think about it: Imagine you were raised in a family that you weren’t biologically related to, and that you might not know anything about your blood family, ever. You might have different health conditions, personality traits, or even skin color than the people you call family.

It doesn’t necessarily sound so peachy when I explain it that way, does it?

Don’t get me wrong; I love my family. I really appreciate them and respect them for who they are, and I am thankful everyday that they are a part of my life. But I’ve always been very different from most of my family members, both in appearance and in character. It can be hard to not have an authentic connection to the people who share my genes. I have often felt misunderstood and longed to have those moments where you realize how much you resemble someone.

So please don’t idealize the experience for someone else when you don’t know how they feel about it to begin with. Instead, follow their lead.


Adoption Isn’t One Size Fits All

We often only see one story of adoption depicted in the media: A child from a foreign country is rescued by White parents and brought back to America to lead a happy life. The end.

That story might be relevant for some, but it’s often not at all what adoption looks like! Adoption stories are diverse and involve everything from being legally adopted and raised by another relative to being a part of the foster care system for years before being adopted by a family as a teen.

Remember this when asking questions. Asking who someone’s real parents are or where they actually come from aren’t appropriate things to ask.


You Can Feel Alone And Left Out

Sigh. It can be very difficult to know where you fit in when almost every other family looks different than yours. I know that when I was growing up, I was proud of being adopted and was very open about sharing it with others, but as I started to get into my teenage years, this changed. As I saw everyone else starting to resemble their parents and sharing commonalities with them, I felt left out. I wished I could share in that experience, and developed a lot of insecurity around my self-image.

The fact is, you don’t know what someone is going through internally or how they really feel about something under the surface. My advice is to ask about it if said adoptee seems open to the subject, but try not to prod for information for the sake of being nosy.

Knowing Is Sometimes Harder Than Not Knowing


I’m one of just 5% of adoptees who had what’s called an open adoption, where you have contact with your birth parents from the time of adoption. A lot of people assume that because I know them, it has made the entire ordeal easier for me in some way. I’ve actually found that, in time, it’s had somewhat of the opposite effect.

Seeing the happy families that both my birth mother and birth father have with other people can make me feel left out. I come from a family of divorce, where I’m also an only child, which has been difficult for me to deal with. I now wish I had brothers and sisters, and knowing that I do, but that we’re not really family, is a hard pill to swallow.

I also have somewhat of a strained relationship with my birth father, which was not by my choice, but by the emotional baggage left over from the adoption, which wasn’t something he wanted in the first place. Dealing with this on top of my other family issues is not something I get excited about.


My point is that knowing about your birth family can sometimes be more difficult than not knowing, since your circumstances might not have ended up as favorably as theirs did. Having to watch from afar can be a struggle.

It’s A Lot Of Work

Being adopted means that you’re probably going to have your fair share of emotional issues to deal with. There’s a lot of deep, underlying issues that need to be addressed. Quite often, there’s suppression going on. Not a lot of people are willing to really lay it all out there and have open, honest, and frank conversations about adoption with their children or parents.

Remember this: Adoption might seem like a fairy tale, but can often be a nightmare in disguise. You just never know how it will turn out. There are challenges involved in any sort of family dynamic, and adoption is not immune.