I’m adopted. So am I!: A thematic analysis of the shared stories of being adopted
Looking at the research literature in the field of adoption, one of the key findings there is the need for more research that focusses on the lived experiences of adoptees, and ideally, research carried out in collaboration with the adopted persons. This was also a theme emerging from many of the plenary addresses at the 5th International Conference on Adoption Research, which took place in 2016 in New Zealand. Adoption researchers have also called for more studies that ensure better outcomes for adopted youth, which can only happen when the young adoptees are included in the research. The desire to heed that call for more adoptee-driven research led to the current project.
As one of the Adoption Ambassadors involved with the “I’m Adopted” website, as well as a young adult adopted internationally from Romania, the first author had the idea to analyse the stories being shared on the “I’m Adopted” website, in order to better understand their lived experiences that they were sharing with others in this online community. Together with the second author—another adult adoptee and long-time adoption researcher—the two developed a research plan that would involve thematically analysing a random selection of the stories being shared on the website.
The population being targeted is adopted young adults from around the world who have chosen to share their experiences of being adopted on the “I’mAdopted” forum. Methodologically, we have been independently analysing the selected stories, then jointly coding to ensure a high degree of inter-rater reliability. While analyses are still ongoing (since saturation has not yet been reached), two preliminary themes are starting to emerge: thoughts of searching for biological family, and the need for support in finding birth family. Some minor themes yet to be fully developed involve awareness of one’s own heritage; identity crises; and finding physical resemblances in biological family.
Once the analysis is completed, we feel that the results will form a fuller and truer picture of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of adopted persons. In identifying some shared themes, we believe that the results will be of interest—and value—to the adoptees themselves, who will benefit from seeing those common threads, and learning that they are not alone in their experiences. Seeing the key themes running through the stories will also be of value to professionals who work with adopted persons and want to better understand how it feels to live the life of an adopted person.
A search for the self: A narrative case study of international adoptees’ search for and reunion with their birth families
Narrative research of international adoptees’ search for and reunion with their birth families is an understudied topic. In the present case study, five adult international adoptees were interviewed in-depth about their search for and reunion experiences with their birth families to identify the narrative themes that characterize the meanings they ascribe in these interviews to their identities and family relationships.
The narrative thematic analysis identified three broad narrative themes: contemplation of the birth family, completing the gaps, and belonging and relatedness. The narrative theme of contemplation of the birth family was characterized by grief, curiosity, guilt, and a struggle with one’s identity in areas such as the need to find information about their relinquishment and where their physical appearance came from and thus corroborated the reunion motives. In particular, major life-course transitions, such as entering adolescence, having a relationship, and becoming parents, activated these adoptees’ needs for search and reunion. The narrative theme of completing the gaps demonstrated the importance of access to knowledge about one’s personal history to establish connections among past, present, and future. Despite the emotional burden of reunion, filling the gaps in their unknown life histories allowed informants to gain a general sense of personal coherence. The narrative theme of belonging and relatedness revealed views of how biology, culture, and nurture related to the meanings these adoptees attached to the family and how they interpreted their family identities. However, in this narrative, belonging and connectedness had more to do with shared nurture and everyday family history and for the social and psychological construction of family, knowing biology was meaningful for allowing these adoptees to integrate their identities within two family contexts.
This study suggests that both biology and nurture are important for adoptees’ identities and are not contradictory; adoptive identity should not viewed along either/or dimensions but both/and dimensions, although shifts between these dimensions may occur during different phases of life. In future research, the broad narrative themes identified in the present study should be studied further to elucidate more comprehensively the meaning of self and family identity construction within two families. Additionally, since establishing identity and family relations are lifelong processes, longitudinal research on search and reunion experiences should be conducted.
Adoption revolution: narratives and practices of resistance in adults adoptees in Chile
The international legal recognition of the Right to Identity is included in the Chilean adoptive legislation, which warrants the conservation of children’s origin information and its subsequent possibility of disclosure in adulthood (age 18). There also exists a governmental specialised Sub-Program of Search of Origins, of the Adoption Department (SENAME). Some results of the first narrative research carried out in Chile with adults adopted nationally between the seventies and nineties are presented and analysed. Thirty individual and group interviews were carried out together with the artistic self-portraits and the construction of a book of experts, as methods aimed to promote agency in participants.
The analysed material allows to identify narratives and practices of resistance and multiple strategies developed by adoptees that show a distancing from the hegemonic discourse of “abandonment”. Special capacities to integrate and understand dilemmas and paradoxical situations, to break silences and family secrets, to question the stigmas associated with adoption, understand the circumstances and factors that motivated their adoption and know more about their life histories and those of their mothers and families of origin, in order to achieve greater degrees of identity integration. This shows a process of transition and transformation of the dominant narratives about adoption, in which it is essential to listen, consider and value the voice of its direct protagonists.
Based on the findings, we reflect on the necessary deconstruction of the traditional model of “clean break” and the notions of origins, identity and kinship, contributing to the depathologization of people who were adopted. It is possible also to identify a disblaming discourse of their mothers and families of origin and a greater participation of their adoptive parents in these processes, allowing all the people involved to move towards narratives and practices of greater continuity, integration and openness.