As Simone Biles Wins Gold, Let’s Puncture the Adoption Circle of Silence

The story of Simone Biles should have reignited an open discussion about the gift of adoption.

Biles was adopted by her biological grandparents.  Her story, like that of so many adoptive families, is one of triumph though struggle – of meager beginnings and extraordinary accomplishments.

Over the past few days, though, the shine of the story has been muted by NBC commentator Al Trautwig who refused to acknowledge her adoptive Mom and Dad as her parents during coverage of the preliminary exercises and in subsequent posts on social media.

This shun did not go unnoticed by the adoption community.  The Washington Post ran a piece authored by adoptee Jenn Morson on Wednesday that explained why such position can be so hurtful.

Although Mr. Trautwig is this week’s face of adoption ignorance, he is not alone.

For me, he is simply the newest outsider in what I see as the Adoption Circle of Silence.

The Circle of Silence is not an exclusive club.  On the contrary, most people are, in fact, unaware members.

Adoptive families are on the inside of the Circle.  We protect our children from a cruel world that might not understand how their family came to be.  Although well-intentioned, guarding our family’s adoption story too tightly leaves your success story untold and mysterious.

For those of us on the inside of the Circle, we intentionally keep adoption away from the spotlight – lurking behind the scenes and, in doing so, missing numerous opportunities to break the endless loop that could help both adoptive families and the presumed ignorant.

The cure for all ignorance is information.  The best information about adoption can be supplied by those of us on the inside.

Those not yet directly impacted by adoption find themselves on the outside of the Circle of Silence – I contend, typically not by choice.  I find that most people want to understand the secrets that insiders so closely guard.  These outsiders are left in the uncomfortable space that exists when their curiosity is piqued by a subject they are uncomfortable addressing.

It could be that these outsiders are more timid and scared than blatantly ignorant – afraid that satisfying their adoption-related curiosity might be met with rejection by an adoptive family.

The Adoption Circle of Silence is more divisive when insiders are overly distant and outsiders are overly reluctant.

The Circle will only strengthen if comments like Trautwig’s are swept away with today’s swift news cycle.  To end the silence, insiders like me need to step up from the shadows.  Adoptive families need to be ready to help satisfy the untamed curiosity that ultimately leads to ignorance by those too scared to ask.

Letting down my guard is difficult and requires a mutual understanding of two pillars of adoption that the world should know.

First, when talking about adoption, please understand that you’re embarking on sacred ground with adoptive families.

I am very sensitive about my son’s story and expect others to be as well.

I don’t want to talk about my son’s journey for a pat on the back.  I don’t want him to be told how lucky he is.  The truth is, I am the fortunate one.

Adoption is created from loss – that fact is sobering and serious – it makes me sensitive when asked about our process.  My sensitivity will likely leave some of your questions unanswered.

When I tell you, “I’d prefer not to talk about that,” I’m not being coy, illusive or dismissive.  I am protecting my son’s journey – a story he owns.

When I respond that way, I’m not telling you to stop asking so please don’t – just ask something else.

The second piece of foundational understanding must be that the need to categorize adoptive parents or kids is offensive and unnecessary.  There are no “real” dads, moms, brothers or sisters.

The son that I met in Ethiopia when he was 1 is as much “mine” as the kids that I held in the delivery room.  I’m no less Yosef’s “real” dad than his biological father is fictitious.

When these two truths are universally understood and acknowledged, the Adoption Circle of Silence begins to puncture.  Those on the inside can feel better about letting their guard down.  The questions of curious friends and neighbors that now stand on the outside of the Circle are welcomed.

When the Circle of Silence is finally dissolved, talking about adoption will stop being taboo, mysterious or reserved for a select few.

The shattered Circle leaves both insiders and outsiders unburdened by worry and ignorance –shining an appropriately focused, celebratory spotlight on the power of adoption and the triumph of adoptive families.

With the same freedom with which Simone Biles twists through the air, the celebration of adoption should be as unbridled and glorious.


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