Adoptee Is Not In My Spell Checker

Whenever I write about adoption, my computer reminds me that adoptees do not exist.

According to my spell checker, that is. As I write this I can see three wavy red lines telling me that two instances of “adoptee” are unknown. Oops, there’s a third. I know, I could add the word to my spell checker, but that’s not the point. Adoptees are so disenfranchised by our society that the only word that describes us does not exist in spell check software.

Adoption language is loaded. Considering how adoptees are not societally permitted to mourn what we have lost, we sure get a lot of grief from people who have no idea what it’s like. While we’re still young and cute we are “gifts,” or as they said in my era, “chosen children”. As teenagers we become “troublesome,” “rebellious,” “bad seeds.” Or maybe we’re “quiet,” “reserved,” perhaps “antisocial.” It’s hard to be social when all your social clues are stolen, when you’re an untethered ship floating at random across hostile seas. While we are “chosen,” we are also expected to be “perfect” – the perfect solution to someone else’s desires. If we search for our roots, we are deemed “in need of therapy.” And if we express outrage at the systems which have sealed our records and denied our existence, we are lashed with the word “ungrateful.”

Ungrateful: every adoptee’s favorite loaded word.

No, I am NOT grateful I was adopted. I hate being adopted. (Oooh, collective gasp from the unsuspecting! But the adoptees saw it coming.) I hated growing up looking in the mirror at a face that had no reflection in the world around me. I despise the fact that my children are the only biological relatives I have ever met. Think about that for a minute – the first and only birth kin I know are my own kids. Do you get how utterly whacked that is? Yet adoptees are expected to suffer in silence, without even a single word to describe who we are.

Let’s not leave out our blood relatives. “Birth mother” is in the spell checker only as separate words – “birth” being an unnecessary adjective to describe “mother.” Our society, thanks to the adoption industry, places a modifer on mothers who surrender as a way of de-humanizing these women, making it harder to empathize with their experiences. There are other terms – first mother, natural mother, bio-mother – but the truth is, these women are mothers. That they do not raise their children (and many were not given a choice) is irrelevant. You wouldn’t catch most adoptive parents referring to themselves as adoptive parents – in fact most of them are insistent to the point of hysteria that they are parents, no modifier. Loaded language saps the strength of surrendering parents, and completely dismisses their trauma and grief.

Loaded language applies to adoptive parents, too. They are showered with praise – “rescuers,” “good Christians” – implying that they are somehow doing us adoptees a favor. As I said before, there wouldn’t be a market for infants if there weren’t willing consumers, and what child wants to be raised apart from his or her parents? Why did I need rescuing from a mother whose only fault was being pregnant and unwed during the Baby Scoop Era? Now there’s a phrase you won’t find in common dictionaries. Worst of all, adoptive parents use loaded language on their adopted children. “You’re Mommy and Daddy’s gift” puts enormous pressure on an adopted child, who is all too aware that unwanted gifts get returned. To be a “chosen child,” one must first be un-chosen.

Some of us have “chosen” (ha!) to load our own language. “Bastard” is a badge I’m happy to wear. I’d rather be an honest bastard than a brainwashed perpetual adopted “child,” though it took me years to realize the brainwashing had even occurred. Now I know adoption is, as Douglas Adams might put it, one great big joojooflop situation. Adoptees don’t have to be grateful, and we sure as hell don’t need therapy.

What needs therapy is the adoption industry itself. Give it a shot of Ritalyn and a couple of Prozac pills, then pat it on the head and let it sleep. Maybe when it wakes up, it will have founds its moral backbone.


  1. http://bl says

    Triona – so much of what you posted really resonated with me. Language is such a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) qualifier of how we perceive ourselves. Some may wonder why (some) adoptees wait until they are adults to search, and I often think that it can take a lifetime to overcome the messages we are given, particularly when those messages are given by members of our own adoptive families. As I have become acutely aware of the words told to me over the years, I am so saddened that I couldn’t have seen it sooner (and searched sooner, and questioned my rights sooner, etc.). It is hard to say it (perhaps some of that brainwashing I still need to shake), but I too am not grateful to be adopted; I am grateful to be alive, but not adopted.

  2. bl – It’s been said that a lot of adoptees wait to search out of fear of hurting their adoptive parents. That’s part of the brainwashing, the expectation that we as adoptees exist to fulfill others’ dreams. And it can take lifetimes to get over that brainwashing. It’s very empowering to wake up one day and say, “You know what? I don’t like being adopted.”

    I wish I could have seen it sooner, too, but I’m not sure I would have understood without the experiences that led up to the realization that being adopted has a lifelong impact.

    Some adoptees submit completely to the brainwashing, as a survival tactic. When asked if they want to search, their knee-jerk response is “No! I love my adoptive parents!” You can love your adoptive family and still hate the fact that adoption separated you from your family of origin. Searching is no reflection on your adoptive family, it’s a basic human desire we all experience. But adoptees are expected to quell that desire so that others don’t have to face the fact that adoption, even in the best circumstances, begins in loss.

    For anyone who is adopted, I encourage you to look at your own feelings about adoption. Forget what the other people in your life say, and forget what you have been taught to believe. Only you can speak to your own feelings. It’s okay to experience the negativities that arise. We have to face the darkness in order to see the light.

  3. Triona, you certainly made me think about how many times I’ve wanted to scream at the computer while using Word. Every time I’m writing an adoption-related paper “adoptee” is underlined in red because the spell checker feature does not recognize it as a word. It is like we adoptees are not suppose to exist and I’m sure that many legislators would prefer that we did not.

    My adoptive father was killed in a freak accident when I was two but my adoptive mother had no problem with my searching. In fact, she helped me get started. But I was always close to her and had no problem talking to her about searching. I did not start searching though until after my son was born. He was the first biological relative that I had ever seen. I had developed medical problems though and then he did too so there was that reason to search along with wanting to know my origins.

    I do feel there will always be some adoptees not search because they have a fear of hurting their adoptive parents. Some do wait until after the death of their adoptive parents. I feel that it must stem from their feeling like they must be forever greatful. And to me that is a result of being brainwashed to the point that others are more important than what they might truely want deep within.

  4. I am not an adoptee, I am a (birth) mother. I too have found it incredible that adoptee is always underlined in red.

    I have been in reunion for a long time and I think my son is still struggling with some of the issues you and you commenters mention.

    I suspect but do not know, that there is some guilt inducing manipulation going on.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. very well written article….one of the best I’ve read…..somebody needs to publish it in a newspaper somewhere….hope you don’t mind if I copy it for my personal use…..I’m not a part of the adoption triad…merely a volunteer searcher for the triad. There’s more than one way to skin a cat…& each time we find a match; one which was first made in heaven…we also in essence tell all the lawmakers what we think about all their laws. I think its very important that we all register to vote…make our demands known…and vote em accordingly to the way they react to our wishes. And when we hire em, better believe we have the power to fire em too. We all need to unite & take a stand together…let em see the numbers & know our demands or suffer the consequence; which is termination of their duties. That WILL get their attention! Thanks again for the article! Louise Brawley aka weasylou

  7. Weasylou – You are welcome to copy for personal use, if you retain my byline and contact information:

    “by Triona Guidry, as posted on”

    Glad you enjoyed the article!