I attended a virtual adoption conference last month. It was great to share space with so many others who understand your journey, either by personal experience or by empathy. It was a two-day conference with various events and guest speakers geared towards the “three” sides in adoption.
By that, I mean birth/biological parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents, also referred to as the triad. They also had professionals attending and people looking to adopt or foster and offered CEU credits for those who needed them.
One of the first terminologies I learned when I started my personal journey into adoption research, several years after I had relinquished my parental rights, was the triangle or triad reference.
One day, as I perused through Barnes and Noble, searching for a book on adoption, I found one called, The Adoption Triangle, by Arthur D. Sorosky, Annette Baran, Reuben Pannor. I remember reading the intro and looking over the topics and quickly becoming more interested because the book included birth/biological stories. I needed some insight desperately. I needed to understand adoption on a deeper level, outside my own experience.
Inside the pages, the authors shared stories and captured the various points or angles of those directly impacted by adoption, depending on their position on the triangle or within the triad. It was the first time that I felt validation for my emotional wellbeing and the impact adoption and relinquishment had on me.
Triad: a group or set of three connected people or things.
Until this weekend, I never questioned this terminology. It seemed like a simple explanation. It was widely accepted and used by professionals as well as many of us within the adoption community.
However, while I was sitting in a virtual conference listening to our guest speaker, Sharon Kaplan Roszia M.S., share her talk on, The Ethical Traps in Building Families Through Adoption and Permanency, I seemed to have an epiphany.
Sharon, a social worker and an adoptive mom, shared how much has changed in adoption, including her own views, over the years but then how other things still needed greater amount of change. She confessed how social services unevenly and unethically impact minority families, who often become victims of a flawed system. She spoke about how fathers are too often not included in the decision making of adoption. And lastly, she talked about the impact on siblings.
At this point, she had my full and undivided attention. It was wonderful and refreshing to hear someone with personal and professional experience talk about the unethical flawed system, racial bias and to include the importance of siblings.
Siblings have always been an important topic for me but one that rarely gets discussed. Too often the biological siblings don’t get to share their side of the adoption story.
I remember sharing with family and friends how I was not only concerned for Noah as an adoptee and the impact adoption would have on him over the years but I was also concerned for Jaren and how our family’s adoption experience would impact him over the years to come. I knew how devastating it was for me at times.
I remember discussing it with my mother once and she brushed it off, as if I was making a big deal or seeing something that wasn’t there. As if I was imagining a false reality. But she didn’t know my son the way I did. She saw him once every couple years. That is surely not someone who can make a fair analysis. It is a dangerous assumption.
People rarely shared the same compassion for Jaren when it came to adoption. Jaren was 20 months old when his brother left our home. While he was not able to communicate his feelings at that time, I have asked Jaren several times over the years (during different stages of his youth), how he felt about his brother being adopted. I wanted him to feel safe that he could talk to me anytime about his feelings. But, I never heard anyone else close to us ask Jaren how he felt. That says a lot. Why were his feelings not valued.
I think some people thought it better to ignore it rather than talk about it. Others thought since he and I had a relationship with Noah, that solved the issue. And lastly, I think some people believe that when a child is parented by his or her biological parent but another child wasn’t, that the child or children who remain with their parent don’t experience a similar emotional impact caused by adoption. It is a sad and flawed assumption. Loss and grief go hand in hand.
In my heart, I knew Jaren had been impacted too. I could tell when we talked with Noah and his family on the phone or visited with them. I knew how Jaren acted at home compared to how he acted when talking or visiting them. I knew how I was different as well. We both experienced anxiety. But I had no proof until recently when Jaren confessed to me. I knew one day I would be faced with the reality and impact of my choice from not just one son but two.
Even their father has confessed to me that a couple years after Noah was adopted, he had a nervous breakdown. I guess the guilt finally caught up with him and it became too much for him to bear.
While in my heart, I know if their father had responded responsibly, the outcome would have been different. My sons know this as well. However, in the end, I was the one with the pen.
“The pen is mightier than the sword.” ~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton
I neglected my sons the opportunity to have each other as siblings. I now understand I should have fought harder to keep them together.
Which brings me back to the adoption triangle or triad.
Most adoption triangle diagrams will show in varying degrees, only three entities on the adoption triad or triangle; birth/biological parent, adoptee/birth child, and adoptive parent. The three titles are almost always positioned on the outside of the triangle on each point or corner of the diagram. However, everyone knows there aren’t just three sides to adoption.
That’s when the light bulb went on. The result or cause and effect of adoption create sides, but the system itself is not a triangle or a triad. The system positions those involved in the transaction at opposites ends of the diagram. We are exchanging the loss. We are passing it from one corner to another. And truly, no one wants to maintain, manage, or carry the loss.
Side meaning: support or oppose in a conflict, dispute, or debate.
I thought all these years, the adoption industry and the persons who have been directly impacted by the act of adoption have been focusing on the three sides of adoption but there are not just three sides in adoption. Here we are advocating for the triad without transferring true power to the ones who truly need to maintain the power. Otherwise, those impacted by the result of adoption become powerless. This has been a huge part of the advocacy that adoptees and birth parents have tried to reclaim over the last couple decades with more transparency and access to birth certificates.
The power has historically been held by the ones who control the spinner, the ones who make the decisions, pass the laws or who used their power to threaten, coerce, groom, or gaslight someone into an outcome that suited those in power, who benefitted the most from an adoption.
At the same time, historically, the spinners do their best to control the triangle and keep everyone separated and in their corners. They were the mediators. They had all the information and the power to release it or withhold it.
When adoptive parents and professionals began to see the issues in adoption and began to advocate for birth families and adoptees, society seemed to accept the information. But once we reclaimed our own voice, our advocacy became a bloody battle at times and a huge debate.
The three outside entities of the triangle or triad are at the mercy of anyone who is in control of the spinner, who ironically will walk away with no emotional or life-long impact or commitment to the process or to persons involved in said adoption.
Which got me to thinking, should we even have sides in adoption at all.
“There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Robert Evans