What I Would Like to Tell Adoptive Parents (About Answers): A Letter from an Adoptee

Matthew Salesses explains that adoptees may not be able to find all the answers they’re looking for, and that needs to be okay.

This was originally published on the author’s blog.

Editor’s Note: This is an open letter to Ann Brenoff and @HuffPoParents about her piece My Daughter’s Baby Picture.

Dear Ann Brenoff,

Earlier today, I read your essay about taking your adopted daughter to China to get her some answers about her adoption. I noticed that the comments are overwhelmingly positive, and also that they are overwhelmingly from other parents. I’m a parent, too, but I am writing to you as an adoptee, not as a dad.

I won’t beat around the bush: your essay upset me. Angered me, even, at first. Because it simplifies the issue of adoption and suggests that answers can be gotten from a quick trip to the birth land and a photograph. Then I realized I wasn’t truly angry but sad.

I wish I could make you see how much you are leaving out, how you are giving your daughter and future adoptive parents the wrong (and perhaps harmful) impression. That there are “answers” that can set someone at peace with being adopted. Peace for an adoptee does not come from seeing the place she was left. (Or even, I might argue, how or why.) I know this. Peace is not about answers. As far as I can tell, from everything I have learned and questioned about myself, it is about accepting that there will always—always—always be questions. The answers are never really answers.

I can’t say whether meeting one’s birth mother would give one a real answer—maybe it would. I haven’t found my birth mother, and probably couldn’t even if I tried hard. I was abandoned and found by an orphanage as a baby, where I was raised until I was 2-and-a-half. Or so says the orphanage and the adoption agency I came through—though I learned recently (an important lesson), from an adoptee who eventually found her birth family, that these organizations often lie. Maybe things have changed since when I was adopted. Maybe things are different in China.

But speaking from experience, finding out about the orphanage that raised you does not allow you to understand your adoption. If, Ann, you meant to talk about specific answers, like what the place was like, and who took care of your daughter when she was there, and what kind of baby she was, then I wish you had framed your essay like that. I wish you hadn’t made it sound like adoption had been answered, like your daughter is healed now of that deep deep loss we never truly “get over.”

Adoption isn’t simple. It’s the most complicated thing I know. Answers are not easy and not firm and don’t answer the questions you’re really asking—or, as the case may be, not asking. Adoptees may wonder about their real birthday, or what it was like where they grew up, or even why they were abandoned (getting closer), but what they are really asking is much more complex than that. I have asked those questions both out loud and in my head my entire life. And underneath those questions are further questions—like how has adoption made me who I am, and who is that, and how would I be different if I knew my birth family?—and underneath those questions are questions I don’t even know how to ask, or know to ask, since the part of me that would know what to look for is a part of me I can’t recover. I am searching for answers, but I am searching for questions. And answers always lead to more questions, at least in my experience.

It is complicated. Adoptees need their adoptive parents to know that it is complicated, and to tell them so. The language in your essay, Ann, makes implications that could be damaging for adoptees looking to understand, and for adoptive parents looking to understand. Confusion is how adoption is. Adoptive parents, please acknowledge this. Please don’t try to tell us differently. Please don’t try to tell us the fog isn’t real. Just stand there with us and let us hear your (true, honest) voice.

When you say, Ann,

One of the cold realities of adopting an older child from China is that she comes with a lot of questions, many of which you can’t answer.

Why cold? Why older? Why China?

One of the realities of adopting is that there are questions that can’t be answered. There. This is the truth. It doesn’t matter where that child is adopted from or how old she is when she’s adopted. The questions will always be there, and I wish all adoptive parents would know that this is universal and that it is okay and that it is not cold but simply real.

When you say, Ann,

Still, it was an orphanage and what she didn’t have during those years was what she wanted most: a forever family. Us.

How do you know what she most wanted? How do you know it was “us”? Again, we do not really know what we want—that’s part of it, that there is such a deep rift in your life that you don’t know how to climb down into it to see how far it goes or what is at its bottom. On top of that, though, why do you think that what she wanted most wasn’t her birth parents? I love my family. I love my parents and am enormously, endlessly grateful to them. I am so so grateful. And yet they weren’t what I wanted, as a kid. Of course they weren’t. What I wanted was what other kids had, or seemed to have. What I wanted, at least, was to know what it would be like, to be part of a family from which I sprung, even if to find out that what I needed was my adoptive family. Which I do.

When you say, Ann,

But I also heard from many, many more parents who told me that their children’s orphanage visits went smoothly, were cathartic and helpful.

Why didn’t you ask adoptees? Why didn’t you ask adoptees who had grown up a little since then, who have some perspective and could tell you what those trips meant to them? I wish I had gone to Korea when I was 14, or younger. I went when I was 24. And I learned a lot. I learned so much. And I have even more questions for all the “answers” I found. It was great and eye-opening and important to me to go to Korea, but I can tell you that no trip is going to answer what being adopted means. I can tell you that at 14, I might have thought or even made myself believe that I had figured something out, but I wouldn’t have. I don’t think a trip back to an orphanage really answers the real questions at any age, and I know it takes time, a lot of time, to process what you feel. Six years after my first year in Korea, I’m still trying to figure out what that trip meant to me at 24, having married a Korean woman and with a child of our own.

When you say, Ann,

that Sophie got her answers. But what the trip gave me may have even upstaged that: I got a baby photo of my daughter taken when she was just 40 days old.

You make it sound like she got all of her answers. You make it sound like she is suddenly whole, as if adoption can be put behind her. You make it sound so easy and so complete. And then you make it sound like even if your daughter got answers, a photo is more important to you. I can’t even begin to say what is wrong with that. That makes me so sad, to take the focus away from her. That makes me the saddest of all.

On the other hand, when you say, Ann,

We saw where Sophie once slept and I immediately knew where her aversion to itchy blankets comes from.

I love that this is about you understanding her. That is an essay I would have loved to have read. The mother’s perspective, how the trip brought the two of you closer. That is something beautiful and empathetic.

But when you say, Ann,

And yes, Sophie got her answers. She was given the details of how and where she was found. The story made her cry and I wept alongside her. The truth sometimes hurts and there is no greater pain than the one you watch your child experience.

I get so sad again. That you would let her think that knowing how and where she was found was enough, or that you would think that it is enough. It isn’t. It isn’t enough. Are those the “answers”? Are they?

When you say, Ann,

She knows that the small scar on her arm wasn’t caused by anything noted in the orphanage records, suggesting that she may be one of the Chinese babies whose birth mother marked her, hoping to be able to recognize her should their paths ever cross again.

I worry that the orphanage records wouldn’t record abuse (of course). I worry because I have unknown scars, and because orphanages and agencies that make money selling babies are not always the most honest organizations, and because you suggest that the scar might be from your daughter’s birth mother, a suggestion that could influence her opinion of her birth mother and make her think her mother thought too little of her body, or her pain, when there is no evidence for that. There are more questions here. I want us to see the questions not being asked.

Lastly, when you say, Ann,

Later, when we visited her finding spot in a village on the outskirts of the city — led there by a map provided by the orphanage — I caught my trouper of a daughter staring into the faces around us. Unable to help myself, I asked if she was looking for her birth mother. “No,” she said, “You’re my Momma and I’ve found everything I came looking for,” she said.

I looked at her baby photo and thought: “Me too.”

I know that your daughter loves you. I am glad of it. I love my mother and I would tell her the same. But I would tell her that out of love. I wouldn’t want her to worry that I hadn’t learned enough, that I still felt incomplete. I might even use my love of her as an excuse not to figure out more. I know I have used it. I wish you had encouraged your daughter to find out more, and more importantly, to question more. I wish you hadn’t thought you had found everything you were looking for. I wish you had passed on, as a parent, how unknowable the future and the past are, and how a photo is nothing compared to the moment in time trapped within your daughter’s heart.


Matthew Salesses

For more from Matthew Salesses, check out his article Yellowface in Cloud Atlas.

About Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses contributed to the very first day of The Good Men Project. He writes the "Love, Recorded" column about his wife, baby, and cats. He has written for The New York Times, NPR, the Center for Asian American Media, Salon, The Rumpus, and others. He is the author, most recently, of Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American masculinity. See more at his eponymous website. Contact him via email or @salesses.


  1. Matthew, this is a perfect response. I find Ann Brenof’s writing to be problematic most of the time, for exactly the same reasons you have so clearly articulated. Thank you for complicating adoption and for challenging this essay.

  2. This is an excellent article, very articulate with a fulsome analysis. *Thank you for writing and speaking these truths.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about acura tl rims.


  4. Excellent essay. My father was a foster child thankfully raised by the same family for most of his childhood before they were able to adopt him at 12. I recognize a lot of my father in your essay though he like most children of his time was matched by ethnicity and religion to his family. As a foster child he had an added concern: the fear that his birth family might come for him someday and take him from the only parents he ever knew. An excellent father, and a committed husband, he had a successful and blessed life, but one that was marked by life long insecurity, unanswered questions and I think fear. Like many in his day he feared being disloyal to adoptive parents who he loved and to whom with the added risks of life in Foster Care he was very grateful. He was always aware that his childhood could have been less secure than it was. I don’t think he came to real peace with his thoughts about his adoption and birth parents until old age.

  5. Debrah Neustel says:

    I’m an adult adoptee, 50 years old and over educated. I think Matthew hit the nail on the head and anyone who is not part of the adoption triad really has no business putting there 2 cents here. I’ve worked with an adoption therapist who teaches adoption therapy to other therapists and colleges, she has written books on the topic and wait for it….she was adopted too and found her birth family later in life. She would agree w him as well. Her name is Dr. Marlou Russell, PhD and I invite you to contact her w questions and comments if you want correct information.

  6. Matthew, I am looking forward to our radio program together with Rebecca Vahle tomorrow! I just read your blog article:-)

  7. I love hearing the voices of adult adoptees. I think you can provide so much insight for adoptive parents most of the time. However, I also enjoyed the Huffington Post article that you are referring to here (although I did agree that the baby photo should not have the same level of importance as the healing that Sophie was yearning for). I think as adoptive parents we are simply loving our kiddos the very best we can. Ann (the Mom) wrote the article from HER perspective. She cannot begin to know the feeling or experience of all the questions that will never be answered in Sophie’s mind. I, too am an adoptive Mom of a daughter from China. And while I try my hardest to know and understand what she will feel and experience. I simply cannot. I am white. I am American. I grew up with my biological parents. But like Ann, I can love my daughter through her journey. And I don’t think you should criticize Ann for that!!! I think your anger here is very misdirected.

  8. I have five adopted sisters who came from Korea and Vietnam in the 1970’s. I can tell you that each sister would respond differently to Ann’s article. not only that, I also know that they would have responded differently at different ages- we are all middle aged now! I have learned from my sisters that adoptee experiences are diverse and individualistic. No one can truly represent all adoptees- that is not so different than a parent who assumes her daughter’s experiences based on her own needs or wishes. And as I raise my own daughter adopted from China I know I need to listen very carefully to my daughter’s own experience in order to support and validate her- and I need to accept that at certain points in her journey I will not be along for the ride. And then I have the Five Auntie Counsel to advise and mentor.

    • Tessa Wilcox says:

      You are correct that every adopted person feels and responds differently. I am an older adopted women and have a brother who was also adopted. He are I are not the same people, in the way that no two siblings are alike. I have always been very comfortable, not feeling that anything is missing, not abandoned etc, while my brother has struggled more. I think it would be wonderful if we could recognize that adoptees are individuals and as such respond differently. As a parent of an adopted daughter I so appreciate the thoughts of other adoptees in that there may be some bit of emotion or knowledge that will help me with my daughter’s responses, which will, no doubt, be different than her moms. Thank you for the conversation. I am sure your sisters form unique branches in your family, as would any siblings.

  9. Julie Vairo says:

    My oldest daughter is adopted from China. I have worried/comtemplated/struggled with how I am going to explain her adoption. I don’t know if she was loved, the circumstances under which her family abandoned her, nothing. That bothers me. Shortly after we returned from China, I found out I was pregnant. I worried my entire pregnancy about my oldest child feeling as though she’s not part of our family because she is not biologically ours. I love to hear what adult adoptees say. It gives us, as adoptive parents, more insight than any other. Thank you.

  10. Very glad that you posted this response. It’s helpful to hear from adult adoptees and for me as a parent to be real about adoption and what it means for my kids.
    Thank you.

  11. Thank you for writing this Matthew. Thank you so much.

  12. THANK YOU for sharing your story! I am an adoptive Mom and I’m just SO GRATEFUL for your perspective.

  13. Thank you, Matthew! Your letter was amazing. I couldn’t agree more with the dangers of neat little endings, with pretty little bows wrapped around the same.

    I processed your words through two different filters: (1) My son is adopted – he’s 3; and (2) I was not adopted, but I was raised from the age of 4 by my abusive father and step-mother (and, still-to-this-moment, I have questions that have been answered that still cannot be thought of as closed, questions that have never been asked, questions that have never been fully formed and, my own personal worst-case-scenario, answers that will never come (for various reasons but one being that my father is now deceased)).

    I remember when I first started going to counseling in my early twenties. Everyone in my family wanted my problems resolved – immediately. After a few weeks, their attitude became: “Well, you must be better now, you’re getting help.” And then after a few months: “Well, you must be healed now.”

    I refer to those first painful years in therapy as the time when doors were being opened – not closed, not resolved, not even close. I still struggle with saying out loud that my dad was abusive — the first time I entered my therapist’s office I could not even communicate a hint of the idea.

    I now face the challenge of recognizing my son’s path, and legitimizing and supporting his journey. I hope my experiences will help BUT, as I well know, my experiences aren’t his. Everyone’s path is different. I hope I’ll understand from my past certain facets of his unique experience, but I’ll have to stand aside, seek to see things from his view, etc., etc. if I have any hope of helping instead of hindering his growth.

    I do believe, though, that simple acknowledgment of an issue can unlock answers and choices and productive paths… that’s why it is so important that we hear your words, Matthew.

    My father never acknowledged that he abused me so I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time pondering one question: Was I or wasn’t I? It’s an awful feeling to not even know what it is you are trying to recover from, or journey through. I hope I’m able to at the very least let Ethan know that whatever his experience, journey, feelings, issues they are ALL legitimate — and they aren’t ever going to be wrapped up with a neat little answer surrounded by neat little bows in neat little compartments. It’s a journey – I hope that I’m at least able to communicate this to him and that he will allow me to hold his hand as he walks his path.

  14. Karen Yingling says:

    Thank you for your perspective; as an adoptive mom of three all with very different circumstances – I need to hear this. The perspective of adult adoptees is SO important in this journey. That being said – and without speaking for her, perhaps Ann’s daughter got her answers that she needed FOR NOW. I know that the questions my year old has about her adoption & all that surrounds it are very different than the one my 10 year old has. Ann’s daughter has questions now – she expressed them and her mom did what she could to provide the answers. IN 5 years, she will have more, deeper and more complex questions – and at some point, her mom will no longer be able to provide the easy answer.

  15. Matthew, thank you for speaking your truth and for sharing from the adopted persons perspective. I take to heart every word you wrote and I hear you clearly stating the fact that there will always be questions in the past, present and future and that adoptive parents can not fix them, but can “Just stand there with us and let us hear your (true, honest) voice.”

    As an adoptive mom I stand with you on this, I hear you, and from the bottom of my heart I get this for my kids. Thank you for speaking the truth that adoption is complicated, complex and over time more questions arise instead of less. There isn’t a story book version, but instead a rich life that comes out of being in it with the ones we love, in a way that THEY NEED US adoptive parents to be. The biggest parenting gift I can have is to learn form other adopted people further down the road than my small kids and to absorb it it into our family and our parenting and love of and for our children. Thank you for being willing to share.

    We humans are complex and to imply otherwise is devaluing.

  16. Matthew, thank you for this – from the bottom of my heart. I have two Chinese-born daughters who are now 14 and 17. We’ve returned to China several times, and each time, my daughters found tiny pieces of their emotional puzzles – not answers, exactly, but feelings. What China, and therefore the surroundings of their birthfamilies, smells like, sounds like, feels like. Because we’ve been in many cities and several rural areas, they took away what was similar in all those places, and very different from the US. It helped widen their understanding, but no, it didn’t sew everything up in a nice, neat bundle to take home.

    They each process it in their own ways. One intensely, one quietly. I try to keep the lines of communication open and flowing, and even as I’d love to be able to answer questions, I try to always be honest about not having answers. I’ve also told them about my own losses, but always acknowledge that I can never fully understand how they feel. I just assure them that I love them. Now and forever. And I know that it isn’t everything, but I hope that it will be enough to help them continue to thrive. Your essay is so painfully beautiful. Know that you’ve deeply touched this momma.

  17. I am both an Adopted person and an Adoptive Mother. I really appreciate your point of view but it doesn’t reflect my experience at all, or did the article you were refereing to. I’m going to save this in case your speaking my son or daughters langugage at some point, I am at peace! I believe God gave me to the family I was supposed to be in, not complicated at all. I have complete peace about it too! I hope my kids feel loved and at peace with their past.
    People put too much value on how they came into a family.

  18. Thank you for this essay…my niece was adopted from Korea as a baby, too, and she found out this year that she was adopted…I feel relieved that her parents shared this with her…and life goes on….she is well loved and I just try to focus on having fun with her and my son when she comes over…children are a great precious gift and I always tell her how much more fun things are when she is around!

  19. I have to totally agree.I’m adopted and found my birth mother. It did answer many questions but it also caused confusion and more questions. I then had to deal with my birth mother’s issues of giving me up. The best thing to come out of it was some medical history. I now know where my birth father is and I’m afraid to contact him after dealing with my birth mother. What disturbs me the most is people who adopt children from various countries and don’t realize all the issues that come with it. I think society, adoption agencies, and adoptive parents don’t realize how complicated and how deep these issues can go.

  20. I am an adoptee and adoptivemom of a biracial child. It has helped me keep my eyes open about alot of things. I never found my bmom. Found out a year after she passed who she was. Would my life had been different? I have no idea, but I was brought up during a time when you didn’t tell your kids they were adopted. I found out on my own at 38. Which felt like a kick in the gut, that my parents were dishonest about it. I believe with my child it is important to be open and honest with her. I will be there to support her.

  21. Also as an adoptee, I read that piece when it first came out and thought, “How lucky that they have the resources to bring a 14 year old to China to see where she came from.” Since I am a domestic adoptee, I didn’t have to leave the country, but I still clung to some of the minor details available to me and created stories about them. In fact, because I was told that my birth mother was of “English origin,” I became an Anglophile, and eventually spent a summer in England at 15. I felt connected. Except my birth mother had never stepped foot in England; it was her ancestry that was English. But it mattered to me at the time. It was something that could help define myself. And I do think it matters.

    Children who are not adopted go through the same things, but they might find other things to cling to – a great-aunt who looks like they do, a talent they can attribute to grandpa, their ethnic heritage.

    It’s natural. And to me, that’s what the HuffPo author was providing for her daughter. Especially because her daughter spent her first five years in that orphanage. I think about my son, now five, and how much his experiences have shaped him already. I don’t see the problem with bringing an adolescent to connect to a place. At 14, you can bet she had a say in the trip. At 14, you can bet she shared “what she wanted” with her family.

    And I agree with Sandy. Sharing the identifying factor of “adoptee” means little. Everyone’s experience and response is different. And a good parent, adopted or not, reacts to each child as an individual. Adopted or not.

  22. As an adoptve parent I have received endless advice from grown adoptees. What I have found is that every adoptee’s experence is as different as the people themselves I take my clues from my children. If they ask questions I try to provide answers. If no answers are available I tell them that. I do resent the remark about agencies who “sell” babies. Even not for profit groups need to charge for services. In a perfect world they could run their agancies on donations. That simply is not the case and they need to provide for the children in their care until they are adopted. Adoption fees are one way to raise funds.

    We all carry scars from childhood , adopted or not.

    • Sandy,

      Your remarks were defensive from the beginning, but “We all carry scars from childhood, adopted or not.” was really uncalled for and disrespectful to the author. Are you so insecure about this subject that your reaction to this thoughtful, heartfelt letter was to immediately attempt to invalidate everything he said?

      I too carry scars from my childhood, which did not involve adoption. But that doesn’t prevent me from understanding that there are profound losses and common experiences to life as an adopted person, or appreciating the courage of the author who shared his thoughts as a person who has lived a similar experience.

      The sad thing is, as soon as I read your first paragraph I knew you were an adoptive parent about to invalidate this adoptee’s lived experience. Chances are, because it hits too close to home for you and you don’t want to acknowledge the inherent pain and loss of adoption OR the industry of adoption which absolutely does buy and sell babies. If you don’t believe that, then you should educate yourself about how exactly adoption works in the US and how much money is involved. You should especially research Utah.

      Regardless of, I find it incredibly sad that was all you got out of this reflective and respectful article – to find the one thing within it that you found offensive. I hope you don’t shut down conversations with your own adopted children like this.

      A fellow adoptive mom.

  23. Excellent. The complexities of adoption are just that–complexities. And coming up with simple fixes or easy answers do not give respect to the complexities of adoption. Moreso, they do not give respect to those who are living adoption.

  24. Great piece . No matter how amazing an adoptive parent is they will never fully understand what their child experiences on a day to say basis nor should they assume. Many beautiful things come out of adoption but it is also extremely sad. The best way I’ve heard it described is “always living with a broken heart.”

  25. I’m American Indian. I’m also a Family Therapist who has done a lot of work with transracial adoptions. Most citizens of the United States and Canada are unaware of a very painful and harmful history regarding federal policies to remove American Indian/Alaskan Native and First Nations children from their biological homes to be adopted into White families. In Canada, this was termed “the Scoop.” About one out of every four American Indian children were adopted out–the percentage in Canada was higher.

    The American Child Welfare League had a federal contract to help conduct this “child-stealing”– In a formal apology from the Executive Director of the ACWL: “No matter how well intentioned and how squarely in the mainstream this was at the time, it was wrong, it was hurtful, and it reflected a kind of bias that surfaces feelings of shame,” Bilchik said. He also apologized for the League’s failure to support the passage of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act and for not providing enough leadership and support to Indian child welfare concerns and efforts.

    Unlike Mr. Salesses, or Ann’s adopted daughter, as American Indians, we are tracked by the federal government by our blood quantum, exactly the way the American Kennel Club tracks poodles. If we are unable to prove “enough” Indian “blood,” we are not able to be federally recognized, which means we have no access to the promises of the treaties that were signed in exchange for our traditional lands–and this includes health care and education. Many states sealed adoption records, which means an adoptee might know he or she has Native heritage, but will never be able to discover the tribal nation of his/her biological family. I can’t begin to express the sorrow of such young people who show up on our reservation doorsteps saying, “I know I’m American Indian, but I don’t know where I’m from.” We fully understand their pain–many of our families have lost their children in a similar way–but we don’t know how to answer them. The term that’s used in our communities for such individuals is “lost bird.”

    Here’s a quote from such an adoptee–as a Family Therapist, I have heard almost word for word the same comments so many times: “I was told that what I came from was horrible, savage, pagan, and that I was so lucky to be taken away from all of that,” White Hawk recounts. “When I became a teenager and went through normal teenage difficulties, my mother told me, ‘Don’t grow up to be a good for nothing Indian.'”

    Finally, with transracial adoptions, it doesn’t matter how much love an adoptive family can provide-that isn’t the issue. But if a child is visually different–a White adoptive family will never be able to model for such a child of how to be a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted person of color, just as a hearing family, no matter how much love it can provide–can ever model for a deaf child how to be a happy, healthy, and well-adjusted deaf person. Frankly, we live in a racist society, and there are different skill sets for dealing with racism and discrimination for people of color than there are for European-Americans.

    In looking at the records of child removal within out Native communities, 99% were taken away through “neglect.” Only 1% were removed for “abuse.” “Neglect” basically meant anything a non-Native social worker and judge agreed upon. For example, in Washington State, until the state codes were changed, it could be considered “neglect” if each child did not have his or her own bedroom.

    Here’s a resource for Canadian First Nations adoptees: http://web.ncf.ca/de723/nahcontacts.htmlhttp://web.ncf.ca/de723/nahcontacts.html

    • Thank you for sharing this information. It was hard to read because it is so horrifying what has been done to these American Indian children and their birth families, but it is important for the world to know these things happened.

  26. Matthew, my “birthday” was the other day and I’ve not had issue in previous years. Until this 38th year, I was sad before I was even out of bed. I suppose the sadness always existed. It was a mostly wonderful day with a touch of sadness. It’s just true. Joe Soll’s book on Adoption Healing and other courageous words of other adoptees fill me with wisdom, validation, and peace. Thank you.

  27. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this. As an adoptive mother, I hope and pray that one day our child will have all the answers as if this would help them feel whole, but you have certainly opened my eyes a little wider and I appreciate that.

  28. I am in total agreement with Pauline.I believe you are completely and utterly correct in stating continuously that there are no answers, and when we do receive answers that there will be so much more that are un-answerable, which then puts the adoptee in a much more futile pose and awareness. I, too, am an adoptee, as well as an adoptive mom of two kids from the California foster system. Thankfully, my six-year-old son feels free to express his pain, loss, questions, and his own scenarios of what could have happened or did happen to his birth mother and himself… However, in answering his question as to whether he could look for his birth parents when he was a grown up, I struggled with emotion, because I know that that will never just be enough of an answer for him and that it create even personal struggles and questions because of what adoption is and does to one, and because of his nature.

    I realized at eight-years-old that I would never have all the answers to my questions on being an adoptee and since then I have also come to the very real conclusion, that I can never be enough help for my son to find his… It is something that maybe, we adoptees, will find on the other side of this life… who knows… It saddens me, it’s complex and yet it is what it is… in a very deep and emotional space of ours…

    I hope this makes sense….

  29. I met my birthmother when I was 20. It answered a lot of questions, and created even more. I wouldn’t choose not to have her in my life, but I can tell you that having her in my life had made things much more complex. I think your emphasis on the complexity and ambiguity and never-endingness of adoption is spot-on. Both my adoptive mother and birthmother thought things had been figured out when I met my birthmother, when in fact who I was was blown open. Adoption is a life cycle issue. Great letter — hope she reads it.

    • Thank you Pauline for your honesty of the complexities in your life now that you met your birthmother. It has eased my pain when I do not hear from my birthdaughter who I just recently meant after 28 years. She came to my 50th birthday party and met ‘our’ famly and told one of my sisters how relaxed she was being around people that looked like her. She spent much of the time w/others and it was hard not to be able to just keep her by my side. Her & my 15 yr old son had many smiles for one another and I didn’t want it to end. And you are right on girl when you stated ‘Adoption is a life cycle’…..But I never want it to be an issue. I just want to continue to talk about our days and events in our lives because I missed so much and the pain just never goes away. Either do the sleepless nights and the wonder of why hasn’t she gotten in touch? Did I do or say something wrong? Endless questions w/no answers. And then I demand of myself to remember I chose adoption for LOVE. Then I get my backbone up, take a deep breath, dry the tears and repeat to my soul; it’s all about the Love Diana. And you let go a little, then the tears come again because you’re letting go AGAIN! As per the cycle, but for this birthmother, NEVER an issue. Thank you again Pauline for your brave comment. It truly was so very helpful. Maybe I will sleep.


  1. […] –Matthew Salesses, “What I Would Like to Tell Adoptive Parents (About Answers): A Letter from an Adoptee.” […]

  2. […] years later, a documentary focusing on real adoptees came across my radar after I wrote an open letter to adoptive parents. I scheduled in specific time to see it. The film is Somewhere Between. Going into it, I felt free […]

  3. […] blank. He has touched upon topics that I couldn’t even properly express myself, including an open letter about adoption. I am catching my second wind so as I try to tackle this very complex assignment I leave you with […]

  4. […] was responding to an article he had read by an adoptive parent. (You can read the whole essay here: http://goodmenproject.com/families/what-i-would-like-to-tell-adoptive-parents-about-answer-a-letter-…) In it the mom had described a trip to her child’s birth country in an effort to help her […]

  5. […] was responding to an article he had read by an adoptive parent. (You can read the whole essay here: http://goodmenproject.com/families/what-i-would-like-to-tell-adoptive-parents-about-answer-a-letter-…) In it the mom had described a trip to her child’s birth country in an effort to help her […]

  6. […] read: What I would Like to Tell Adoptive Parents: A Letter From an Adoptee by Matthew Salesses  /* post_widget("#but1"); Filed Under: Conflict, […]

  7. […] er kort fortalt, men læs selv. Er på engelsk, men skulle være til at forstå. Ingen relaterede poster. Tags: Adoptions blogs, […]

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