The darkness and the light – reflections on adoption

I am an adoptee. I rejoice to know that I have many literary counterparts: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Mary Lennox, Sara Crewe, Anne Shirley, Emily Starr, Frodo Baggins (to name a few). As a child, Anne of Green Gables was my number one literary kindred spirit. As a fan of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, I find it significant that both Tolkien and Lewis lost their mothers when they were young boys. There are echoes of that lost, idealised mother in the strong feminine archetypes Tolkien created in his 'fantastic fiction'.

In the fantasy genre, heroes like Frodo need to embark on epic quests without being encumbered by parents and dependents. But the reason for Frodo being an orphan, and then adopted by his uncle, is deeper. Frodo’s life takes a tragic turn as the burden of bearing a demonic talisman, the One Ring, takes its toll. There is already tragedy in an orphan/adoptee’s past … the loneliness of an epic quest can be an illustration of the loneliness within.

Moving from fantasy to realism, there are books and films that explore the adoption triangle, that delve more deeply into the experience of the three parties involved in the adoption triangle: adoptee, adoptive parent and birth parent.

It’s fascinating for me to read adoption blogs on Facebook and elsewhere: invariably many people chime in with their thoughts about adoption. They often have sentimental and romanticised notions about adoption and the adoption process – sadly, there is still much harsh judgment reserved for birth mothers. We may no longer shame women for being unmarried mothers (rightly so) but the judgmentalism remains.

I realise there are very good reasons to remove a child from an abusive and neglectful family. But every adoption has, at its heart, a tragic loss. The primal wound of separation from our birth mothers affects every single adoptee, and that shadow will make its presence felt, in our relationships, in how we deal with rejection, loss and separation anxiety.

I am not against adoption – my adoptive family are wonderful and I celebrate my adopted status as a ‘chosen child’. St Paul’s teaching on our adoption in Christ, that the Father adopts us as his beloved daughters and sons, resonates profoundly with me. All that I ask is that people acknowledge the shadow. I celebrate my adoption, but I mourn my relinquishment. I searched for my birth mother and had a good relationship with her. I was also blessed to find my bio siblings, in addition to my three adoptive siblings. Searching for my roots was the best decision I ever made. A friend of mine keeps asking me when I will write the book of my life. I need to use those elements in my writing somehow, even if I don’t go down the memoir route.

Childhood in literature is often portrayed as traumatic. Literature needs to show us the darkness and the light.

If ever you want to create a character who is adopted, then talk to adoptees. Adoptees have very varied experiences and we don’t all feel the same way about our stories. Do your research.

Delve into the darkness and the light.

I am an administrator for the education and learning office of the United Reformed Church and a lay preacher in the Church of England. I wrote a devotional for the anthology ‘Light for the Writer’s Soul’, published by Media Associates International, and my short story ‘Magnificat’ appears in the ACW Christmas Anthology ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’.

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