Historias de adopción familiar y las cuatro motivaciones fundamentales

Al crecer, los adoptados pueden enfrentar complejidades relacionadas con la pertenencia, la seguridad y la identidad (Colaner, Halliwell y Guignon, 2014; Grotevant, Lo, Fiorenzo y Dunbar, 2017; Kalus, 2016; Kranstuber y Kellas, 2011; Von Korff, Grotevant Y McRoy, 2006). Parece razonable esperar que algunos de estos impactos puedan continuar hasta la edad adulta, pero se sabe poco sobre los adoptados adultos (Penny, Borders y Portnoy, 2007). Construir y compartir historias es una forma en que las personas dan sentido a sus historias de vida (Ballard y Ballard, 2011). Este estudio empleó originalmente el método de guía de escucha (Gilligan, Spencer, Weinberg y Bertsch, 2003) para explorar las voces y las historias de adopción transmitidas de los padres adoptados a sus hijos biológicos adultos. Las voces de cinco familias se analizaron luego desde la perspectiva de las cuatro motivaciones fundamentales (FM) de la tradición del análisis existencial. Los hallazgos demuestran que los adoptados continúan enfrentando problemas relacionados con los cuatro MF durante la edad adulta.

Palabras Clave: adopción; adultos adoptados; herencia narrativa; historias familiares; motivaciones fundamentales.

Family adoption stories and the four fundamental motivations

Most of us grow up listening to our parents and grandparents regale us with tales of our family.  We hear of the people, places, and circumstances of the generations which proceeded us and shaped our family’s history.  We take in these stories and try to make sense of what they say about our family—and about ourselves.  These stories form part of the foundation on which we begin to develop our own identity.  There are many types of family stories to be shared, and one type centres around adoption.

For a long time throughout history, adoption was considered a positive solution to the issue of children who could not be properly cared for by their biological families.  In the 1960s, however, researchers began to acknowledge the complexities associated with the adoptive experience (Brodzinsky, 1993).  Some of these complexities include issues of belonging, security, and identity (Colaner, Halliwell, & Guignon, 2014; Grotevant, Lo, Fiorenzo, & Dunbar, 2017; Kalus, 2016; Kranstuber & Kellas, 2011; Von Korff, Grotevant, & McRoy, 2006).  The extant literature also suggests that these complexities can persist into adulthood, though little is still known about the experiences of adult adoptees (Penny, Borders, & Portnoy, 2007).  This knowledge gap is worth considering, as there are many adult adoptees still longing to heal and grow from their adoptive experiences.

The adoptive experience and narrative inheritance

This study was originally designed to capture the family adoption stories of adoptees and their adult children in order to gain an initial understanding of what was heard in the passing-down of adoption narratives.  For the purposes of distinguishing between the adoptees and their children, the adult adoptees in this study were referred to as first-generation adoptees and their adult biological children were considered second-generation adoptees.

Given the complicated experiences adoptees face in relations to matters of security, belonging, and identity (Colaner et al., 2014; Grotevant et al., 2017; Kalus, 2016; Kranstuber & Kellas, 2011; Von Korff et al., 2006), and the logical expectation that these struggles may sometimes continue into the adoptee’s adulthood (Penny et al., 2007), the researchers aimed to explore what adoptees shared with their own children.

Adoption narratives are developed within a social context—usually by the adoptive parents (Harrigan, 2010), and the literature also suggests the idea that open communication around adoption the child’s adoption story is associated with greater wellbeing in adoptees (Brodzinsky, 2006; Horstman, Colaner, & Rittenour, 2016; Von Korff et al., 2006; Wrobel, Ayers-Lopez, Grotevant, McRoy, & Friedrick, 1996).  Yet little is known about the narratives adult adoptees choose to share with their children.

The current research on narrative inheritance shows that family stories passed down through the generations can help individuals begin to make sense of their own identity within the context of the people who came before them (Goodall, 2005).  Narrative inheritance is the idea that “that which has come before influences what is to come next,” and that those who are recipients of the stories are “listeners who are also co-authors who interrupt, ask questions, and interject their interpretations of what is being talked about” (Ballard & Ballard, 2011, p. 73).  The results of this study suggest that adoption stories are a type of narrative inheritance that adoptees pass down to their own children, and that this exchange may have a part in shaping both generations.

Listening guide interviews

The participants of this study consisted of 5 families.  Each family was comprised of 1 female first-generation adoptee in her 50s or 60s, and 1 or 2 of her children in their 20s or 30s.  The families were interviewed as dyads or triads.

When listening for what was passed down from first- to second-generation adoptees, the researchers listened specifically for voices.  According to feminist scholarship, “voice” is used as a metaphor of the embodied experience of self-in-relationships.  Each individual’s way of communicating is made up of a multitude of voices that represent the layered nature of their personhood (Gilligan, Spencer, Weinberg, & Bertsch, 2003).

The interview transcripts were originally analyzed through a feminist approach to embodied voice, called listening guide (Gilligan et al., 2003).  These interviews were designed to capture the complexities in each individual’s narrative by listening for the various voices present in each story.

Participant families

The following is a brief description of the 5 participant families.  Susan and Jackie requested that their real names be used.  The rest of the participant names are pseudonyms.

Susan and Jackie were a mother-daughter dyad of European-Canadian descent, living together in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Susan, 62, was a professional dog trainer.  Her daughter Jackie, 23, worked as a sandwich artist and cashier.  Susan initiated contact for participation in this study, and the interview was later conducted via online video-conferencing.

A second mother-daughter dyad, Debbie and Olivia, participated in an in-person interview in Langley, British Columbia.  Olivia, 25, who was working as a counsellor in British Columbia, made the initial contact to participate in the study.  Her mom Debbie, 55, was a workplace mediator and arbitrator.  Olivia identified as Canadian of European descent, while Debbie noted that she believed her biological parents were of Armenian descent.

Ruth, Michael, and James comprised one of the two triads in this study.  Ruth, 64, initiated contact for participation in this study.  She was a retired librarian.  Her eldest son Michael, 33, was an engineer, and her other son James, 28, worked as a software developer.  All three family members identified as Canadian of European descent.  Ruth and James met for the interview in person in Langley, British Columbia, and Michael joined the interview via online video conferencing from his home in Nova Scotia.

A third mother-daughter dyad, Lisa and Ashley, joined the interview via online video conferencing—Lisa from Alberta, and Ashley from British Columbia.  Lisa, 56, was a civil engineer.  Her daughter Ashley, 26, who initiated contact, was a graduate student.  Mother and daughter were of European-Canadian descent.

Mama Bear, Emily, and Hunter were the final triad.  Mama Bear, 56, initiated contact for participation in the study.  She was a fitness professional and life coach.  Her daughter Emily, 34, was a clinical oncology researcher.  And her son Hunter, 28, worked as a creative and brand director.  All three family members identified as American, of European descent, and joined the interview via online video conferencing from 3 separate locations on the north-east coast USA.

The voices

The results of this study were 11 voices of adoption.  The voices represented the participant’s position toward integrating their family adoption story into their own personal life narrative, and were heard on a spectrum.  Voices near one end of the spectrum indicated the participant was turning away from highlighting their adoption story as a focal point in their life narrative.  Voices heard from the other end of the spectrum were ones in which participants turned toward elements of their story and chose to emphasize these components as integral parts of their life narrative.  The 11 voices were as follows: curiosity, selectivity, distance, disconnect, choice, yearning, morality, embrace, conviction, admiration, and love.

Adoption stories through an existential analysis framework

The focus of this article was to explore these family stories through the theoretical framework of Existential Analysis (EA).  The voices captured through the original listening guide analysis spoke to both a relational and an embodied sense of self.  The relational and phenomenological approach of EA and the four Fundamental Motivations (FMs) align well with the 11 voices of the original study.

In order to understand the adoptive experience in the broader context of the human experience, the four FMs were applied to the voices heard from the five participant families.  In many ways, the current research on the adoptive experience suggests that questions central to existential thought (e.g., what does it mean to exist in the world?  What is necessary for survival?  What makes a person feel not only safe, but truly fulfilled?) are also closely aligned to those being asked by child, adolescent, and arguably, adult adoptees.  According to Martin Buber (1970), “All actual life is encounter” (p. 62).  Each individual has a unique self, and that this self is in constant relation with other individuals and their environment.  Through the lens of EA, life is seen as a dialogue between a person’s self and both their inner and outer worlds (Längle, 2003).  This life-long dialogue is what shapes each person’s individual experience in ever-evolving ways.  EA is an appropriate lens through which to view the adoptive experience because it provides a holistic framework for understanding human beings, including the individual’s spirit and other aspects which cannot be measured in scientific ways or teased apart into separate facets of the individual.  It is a person-centered and phenomenological conceptualization of the human experience that stems from the work of Viktor Frankl and his assertion that people are fundamentally motivated to seek meaning.  In addition to meaning-seeking (FM 4), the framework of EA also posits three other FMs necessary for a fulfilled existence.  Each of the four FMs are accompanied by an important existential question that life is asking of the individual (Kwee & Längle, 2013).  The four FMs, as they relate to family adoption stories, are as follows.

The four fundamental motivations

The following sections provide an overview of how the 11 voices, derived from the original listening guide analysis, relate to each of the four FMs.  Each FM will be addressed separately, but it is important to note that there was a considerable amount of overlap between the FMs, and between the voices.  Some voices will relate to more than one FM.

The first FM

The first FM addresses the matter of existence.  It is a fact that the individual exists in the world, whether or not they are able to truly comprehend it.  With this fact of reality in mind, the individual is moved to ask their self a question: I am here.  Can I be?  This is a question of trust—in the world itself and the notion that the individual will be supported in their existence.  The individual needs to feel that there is enough space, support, and protection for them to be able to exist in this world.  They must also choose to accept support and face the more difficult aspects of life.  If these conditions are not met, fear and anxiety are likely to manifest.  A lack of acceptance from their outer world makes it more difficult for them to accept their own existence (Kwee & Längle, 2013; Längle, 2003).  This question relates to feelings of abandonment and not belonging that adoptees sometimes experience (Brodzinsky, 1993; Colaner et al., 2014; Grotevant et al., 2017; Kalus, 2016; Kranstuber & Kellas, 2011), and of the acceptance and support of which many of the participants in this study spoke.

There were 4 voices that embodied FM 1: curiosity, selectivity, distance, and embrace.  The voice of curiosity indicated the participants’ lack of space to be.  Ruth spoke of the curiosity she had about her adoption story and biological family as though there was no space in which her curiosity could be.  She said, “I thought it would upset my mom and dad, my mom particular, if I were, you know, searching.  That I think it would feel—she would have been hurt by that—which is partly why I…never searched early on.”  Ruth may have had plenty of support and acceptance from her adoptive family in other ways, but in regard to her adoption history, she was not able to fully be.  She believed she her existence within her adoptive family was contingent on her silencing her curiosity about her biological lineage.  There was simply not enough space or support for this part of her to be.

The remaining 3 voices—selectivity, distance, and embrace—pointed to the level of acceptance the participants had for parts of their self in relation to their adoption story.  The voice of selectivity illustrated how, for some participants, there were parts of their adoption story they struggled to accept.  This lack of acceptance came through as some participants were reluctant to expand on certain details.  Susan, for example, began to speak of a family she lived with after her parents had died, but stopped short saying, “Um, anyway…don’t wanna go down that path.” The inability to accept particular parts of their story makes it difficult for the participant to fully be in the world.

I kind of wish that I didn’t know I was adopted…Yeah.  I, I kind of wish that my parents had kept that from me so that it wouldn’t even be something, you know, we’d even have to like discuss or answer.  Would just be, um, a complication, a little twist in my life that would go away.  Because it truly is irrelevant to me, but it seems to be relevant to everybody else.

Lisa spoke from a voice of distance when she described her desire for her adoption history to not be a part of her life story at all.  She said:

While Lisa was not able to fully accept her adoptive experience and exist together with it, Emily’s voice of distance actually implied acceptance.  For Emily, her mother’s adoption narrative did not feature prominently in her own life story.  This was not because it was difficult for her to accept, rather she found the facts of her mother’s adoption so easy to accept that they became less significant to her.  Emily attributed this to her upbringing and said, “we were raised in a very…open and transparent way…so much so that I don’t really think there’s much in this world that I’m like—Oh this would be really impactful for my family.”

The voice of embrace suggested the participant’s complete acceptance of their adoption story.  While Susan did appear to struggle in her acceptance of some aspects of her narrative, she also speaks with this voice of embrace which indicates that she is able to be in existence with her adoption story as a whole.  Susan said:

I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve always been wanted.  Um, my mother wanted me enough and brought me to term knowing she couldn’t raise me—she put me into the adoption system.  My adoptive mom and dad wanted me and brought me…into their family…And then they passed when I was 12.  And when I was 13 another family brought me in…I’ve never known anything but welcoming families.

The second FM

The second FM is an issue of not simply existing, but truly experiencing life’s joys and sufferings.  Once again, the individual is urged to ask a question of their self: I am alive.  Do I like to be?  Relationship, time, and closeness are necessary to meet the conditions of FM 2.  The individual must take time to be in relation with things and others they consider to be valuable, and they need to allow for closeness by turning toward life and engaging it.  If the conditions for FM 2 are met, the individual experiences a sense of harmony with their self and with the world.  Otherwise, the individual may experience distance, coldness, and longing.  FM 2 represents value for life.  Each person’s values shape their emotions and guide their evaluations of anything they might feel to be of worth (Kwee & Längle, 2013; Längle, 2003).  This FM is reflected in the varying degrees of openness in communication and information that the adoptee may experience (Brodzinsky, 2006; Horstman et al., 2016; Von Korff et al., 2006; Wrobel et al., 1996).  Openness fosters relationship and turning toward the adoptee’s own adoption narrative.

The voices most closely associated with FM 2 were disconnect, choice, yearning, embrace, curiosity, conviction, and morality.  The voice of disconnect represented disagreement between family members.  This was heard when individuals struggled to understand each other’s perspective on their family story of adoption.  In two families, the second-generation adoptee placed value on their mother’s adoption narrative.  They felt there was meaning in understanding how this story had impacted their family, and even on learning who their biological relatives were.  In both of these families, the first-generation did not value their adoption story as much as their child did, and struggled to understand why it was meaningful to them.  Although these were moments of disagreement, they were also expressions of value—including valuing the relationship they shared with each other and desiring to understand each other.

The voice of choice embodied a value of close relationships with people of the participants’ own choosing.  Ashley stated, “I don’t think family has to be blood.”  This is a believe that she and her mother, Lisa, both shared.  Lisa asserts that her family are the people who raised her, and that her biological relative are not family.  Both women actively work to build and maintain their family of people they cherish—whether or not they are blood relatives.

Participants who spoke from a voice of yearning, expressed value for something they considered to be missing in their relationships.  For Ruth, this was a biological connection.  Referring to her two sons she said, “I was really glad to have at least one—and then thank goodness two people—on earth that were related to me by blood.  I guess that was important to me.”

Mama Bear also expressed a longing for closeness with her biological mother.  She had tried for many years to bond with her biological mom, but it never felt as rich as she had hoped.  Mama Bear said, “I wanted the mother, I wanted her to be the mother…And yet she was so—she’s very absent emotionally.”  Her son Hunter expressed similar yearnings about his biological maternal grandmother, “she did all the things that she’s supposed to do without looking bad, but I don’t think she actually ever really made the effort.”

Despite the shortcomings in her relationship with her birth mother, Mama Bear still finds value and meaning in being open to all familial connections.  This came through as she spoke from a voice of embrace.  “I truly believe in perception,” she says.  She adds:

…it’s how you look at things.  And even to this day, like, do I have a mother-daughter relationship?  No.  But you know she’s some body that came into my life and I believe that I take that gift, and I have a half-brother and I have a niece and nephew and, and more family!  That’s it, it’s a good thing, can’t be bad.

Through a voice of curiosity, Ruth conveyed the value she placed on the relationship she shared with her adoptive parents.  “I thought it would upset my mom and dad, my mom particular, if I were, you know, searching,” she said. “…I think…she would have been hurt by that, which is partly why I…never searched early on.”  Even though Ruth valued the curiosity she held for her birth family, she valued her relationship with her adoptive parents more.

Olivia spoke with a voice of conviction as she expressed the value she held for open and honest communication within her family, in regard to her mother’s adoption story.  “I can see how it’s affected certain family members…as I’ve…picked up on certain information,” Olivia explained.  “I hate that there’s this unspoken—I think it would be nice if it was just put out there and people got help.”

The voice of morality indicated strong values the participants had embraced in connection with their family adoption story.  Jackie explained how she believed her mother’s biological mom had made a morally sound decision in putting her baby up for adoption.  Jackie said she:

Really respect[s] the fact that [Susan’s] birth mom was able to go through bringing a baby to term and still, you know, giving it to a good home.  And recognizing that she wasn’t able to, um, she wasn’t able to do it herself, but still wanted my mom to have life, obviously.

The third FM

The third FM is the realm of identity.  In addition to being in relation to other people and to the world, each individual is also in relation with their self.  They are aware that they are a separate being and different from others.  It is by encountering other people that the individual partakes in the process of learning who they are and whether they have the right to behave as their authentic self.  FM 3 poses yet another question for the individual: I am me. May I be me?  Attention, justice, and appreciation are needed for FM 3 to be satisfied.  The individual must feel seen by others, feel appreciated for their uniqueness, and feel as though their boundaries are considered.  This FM is about authenticity and self-respect.  Through encountering others, the individual may develop an appreciation for both self and others.  Otherwise, anger and splitting from the self may occur (Kwee & Längle, 2013; Längle, 2003).  The extant literature on the adoptive experience highlights the added layers to identity development that adoptees are faced with such as integrating histories from birth and adoptive families, contending with missing information, and trying to make sense of how they fit into their own story.  These factors can make the third FM somewhat challenging to satisfy (Brodzinsky, 1993; Colaner et al., 2014; Grotevant et al., 2017; Kalus, 2016; Kranstuber & Kellas, 2011; Von Korff et al., 2006).

The voices of curiosity, distance, embrace, and love captured the motivations inherent in FM 3.  Mama Bear reflected on a time in which she had been grappling with her own sense of self and how her adoption had impacted this process.  Through a voice of curiosity, she said:

I must have been like pre-teen…and I remember…sitting in my room and thinking, “Oh my god, I don’t really know who I am.”  Like, you know, must have been pre-teen going through I-don’t-know-who-I-am…I know my real name, I have a family out there, I have no—I’m just here.  I just remember feeling, like, I am so by myself.  That’s exactly what I felt a lot, and then I kept saying, like, and then…the fantasies that go on, oh!  What if, what if it’s Elizabeth Taylor?  Maybe she could be my mom?

Ashley also expressed curiosity around her identity.  Since she had no information about who her mother’s biological family had been, she had always wondered about the parts of herself she could not easily understand.  These uncertainties cast some doubt over how well Ashley knew who she was in relation to her heritage.  She questioned:

…why I look a certain way, like, why me and my brother are, like, so tall and my mom is like…5 foot.  Like, she’s really, really small and my dad’s not tall.  And then on my dad’s side they’re not, like, really that tall so.  And then I wonder other things like, um, why is my hair a certain colour, or just, like, curious about those things that, like, I’ll never really have the answer to.  Um, yeah.  And then also, even wondering kind of like um, uh like, just like my background on that side.  You know, like what am I?  Like Irish or like—you know, little things like that…And me and my brother, um, kind of wonder like who—like who our cousins are that we, like, don’t know.

Debbie’s voice of curiosity was a bit more tempered.  She admitted, “I think it’s natural human nature to be curious and think, oh, do I look like somebody else?  You know…what is my heritage?”  She did not have all the answers about her own identity, and this left a small part of her wondering if there was more she could glean about her biological history that may help to expand her own understanding of who she was.

As a way of coming to understand herself as separate and different from others, Debbie embodied a voice of distance.  With this voice, she attempted to distinguish her own adoptive experience from the adoptive experiences of her siblings.  Debbie was adamant that she was different, in many ways, from her siblings—especially in relation to how her adoption had shaped her personal narrative.

Through the voice of embrace, some participants integrated their family adoption story into their sense of self.  Emily reflected on her own feelings toward adoption in light of what she knew about her mother’s experience:

I am super open to adoption—I would absolutely adopt.  I think for me I would see it as such a positive thing…not just in my immediate, like, nuclear family…but like, you know, with my aunts, and uncles, and cousins, and stuff.  Like, to hear people talk about their…intense longing to be parents, and not being able to do it…adoption has just, you know, has always been—and why wouldn’t it be?—just this wonderful and amazing gift.

The familial adoption experiences Emily grew up witnessing have shaped the value she places on adoption.  In a sense, this does relate to FM 2, but it also reveals that this value impacts her identity because she considers herself a person who would adopt children.

The voice of love displayed how some participants incorporated the impacts of their adoption narrative into how they saw their self.  This also connects to the participants’ sense of belonging.  As such, this voice also captures some of the features of FM 4.  In relation to FM 3, Mama Bear spoke to how facets of her adoption story had impacted her identity over the years.  She said:

…there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t really…have so much gratitude that I was able to find out, you know, my roots and my past and, you know—because not knowing…I’m sure nobody, unless you’re adopted, understands this—it’s a very big disconnect…And I grew up in the best family environment!  But there’s a very big, um, missing piece to your heart, to your story to who you are, it is, it is a struggle…to find out who you are.  But then being adopted and knowing, that’s another, you know, subject of it.  So, I’m grateful.  And then also the story behind it, like, I had a mother, a biological mother who wanted me.  I know a lot of adoptees that didn’t have that great experience

The fourth FM

The third fundamental motivation is future-oriented.  This is the field of meaning and purpose.  In FM 4, one more important question is asked: for what purpose am I here?  The individual must contemplate what they believe gives life meaning—in connection to something bigger than the self.  In order to satisfy the conditions for FM 4, the individual must be active in the world.  They must transcend their self in order to find fulfillment.  The fourth FM provides structure and direction to each person’s life by acting to realize a value in the future.  The individual must feel as though there is a place they are needed and can be productive.  This requires an attitude of openness in order for the person to hear what life is asking and how they will choose to respond.  Otherwise, a sense of purposelessness, emptiness, frustration, and despair may overwhelm the individual (Kwee & Längle, 2013; Längle, 2003).  If an adoptee is struggling with the first three FMs in a prolonged manner (Horstman et al., 2016; Penny et al., 2007; Pérez, Sala, & Ortega, 2016), it may be reasonable to surmise that future-oriented and purpose-driven thinking might be difficult to achieve.

In this study, FM 4 was best represented by the voices of curiosity, selectivity, conviction, embrace, admiration, and love.  James spoke with a voice of curiosity as reflected on learning more about his mother’s adoption story.  He considered how to incorporate the histories of both his mother’s adoptive and biological heritages into his own story.  James said, “it’s not like those roots I knew about—they’re not relevant anymore, it’s more of a combination of everything.”

Mama Bear’s voice of curiosity spoke to her desire to have both biological and adoptive roots represented in the legacy she would bestow upon her children.  She said:

I want to be able to pass down…to know what…I have, you know—genetics.  I wanted to know like what was, once I carried a child, you know…Every time I’d go into the doctor’s I’d say, I don’t know anything—I’m adopted.

For Lisa, she found her sense of belonging within her adoptive family alone.  She spoke from a voice of selectivity in choosing to find meaning within her adoptive family, and asserting no meaningful connection to her adoption story or biological relatives.  Reflecting on the history of her adoptive family, Lisa said:

Those were my roots.  You know, that’s where my Dad came from, that’s where my—you know—uncles and grandma came from.  And it didn’t occur to me that I was adopted, that you know, that wasn’t my family…it [is]…how I feel about being adopted.  That, you know, my family are the people that raised me.

Olivia spoke with a strong voice of conviction as she discussed the atmosphere of silence she felt within her family.  She said, “that’s kind of the culture of our family, to not talk about things really openly because we don’t want to cause people to be upset.”  Olivia did not like this family culture because she believed there to be meaning in open communication—even over difficult matters.  She continued:

I’m starting to put things more together in…my mom’s side of the family, and seeing that there’s been a lot of like pain there.  And I know she describes it as being really nice, and she’s grateful for the opportunities—which I think [she was] given a lot of amazing opportunities in the family that you were adopted into, I don’t deny that.  But I think there’s also been a lot of pain on that side that family as well, which doesn’t go acknowledged very often, and that bothers me.

Emily’s voice of embrace captured how she had incorporated learnings from her family adoption story into her broader concept of what she believed family to be.  She said:

…blood doesn’t make a family…being there for people and, you know, choosing to be close to people, and being there for each other, and just loving each other is what makes a family.  I think that like there’s just no other way, you know…I couldn’t even think of it in another way if I wanted to, like it was just, you know, so clear.

Closely related was the voice of admiration.  This too suggested a felt sense of meaning associated with being a part of a family’s lineage.  In reference to a photo album his mother’s adoptive mom had made for the biological mother, Hunter said:

I think, looking back now, um, one of the most important things that I think my mother has shared about her story is, um, is what my grandmother did with the album.  I think that, you know, I have tremendous respect for my grandmother and I that think she’s always been, like, the kindest person—the most warm and welcoming person.  And, like, an inspiration of how humans should live and be to one another…and I think that, you know, my mother and my sister and I all try to be the best people we can be, um, at all times…I think if my mother had to [meet her child’s birth parent], she would have done the same thing, I think my sister would have done the same thing, and I think that I would do the same thing…I think if we had to, you know, meet the biological parent of our child, like we would, we would create an album like that, all of us, and look to share those memories with that person.  So, I think it sort of speaks volumes…generationally because I think we’ve all sort of inherited you know that, that warmth.

Finally, the voice of love was the ultimate expression of finding meaning and belonging with the family—whether it was adoptive, biological, or both.  Mama Bear reflected on how her adoption story continues to shape her family in positive ways:

I think of, like, how it’s impacted me even to this day.  Like, I’m 56 years old and my children are—they know it’s important to me.  They’re on this call with me, like, I am so blessed, you know.  So, being adopted has only been good.

Hunter also captured the spirit of belonging through his own voice of love:

when I think about the family that I love and I cherish and, you know, I want to be with, um, and…that make me feel things and that show up for me—that I would always show up for, you know—this is it, and my grandmother in Queens is it…So, those are the people who…are constants in my life and, you know, who I hope to be a constant for in any time of need where they need me as well.


The holistic approach to understanding the subjective experiences of a person through the 4 FMs provided within the EA framework offered the opportunity to better comprehend how wide- and long-ranging the impacts of adoption truly are for the adoptee.  Proponents of EA believe that every individual is in a life-long process of becoming (Arnold-Baker & van Deurzen, 2008).  It is through continuous encounters with others and the world that the self continues to evolve.

One important factor in the adoption literature is that open communication is associated with higher levels of wellbeing in adoptees (Brodzinsky, 2006; Horstman, et al., 2016; Von Korff et al., 2006; Wrobel et al., 1996).  In this sense, it might be expected that adult adoptees continue to shape the way they relate to their own adoption narratives.  Thus, some adoptees may still need strategies for healing and growing at various points throughout their adulthood.  People often use storytelling as a means of making sense of their own experiences.  Both constructing and sharing these stories can be beneficial in helping adoptees shape their understanding of their story as they move through adulthood (Ballard & Ballard, 2011).

This exploration of family adoption stories through the framework of EA demonstrated that all 4 FMs can be impacted by the adoptive experience.  Not only do adoptees face challenges associated with the existential questions of the 4 FMs while they are growing up, but the results of this study also show that adult adoptees continue to grapple with the same questions.  The adoptive experience truly is life-long, and there is opportunity well into adulthood for adoptees to work toward a fulfilled existence.


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Vanessa Bork. MA

Existential Analysis Student
Existential Analysis Society of Canada


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Artículo Extendido
Familia - Family
Nº 30 - 2020