I was at this elderly woman’s house when her 20-something daughter kissed her goodbye. As soon as her daughter left, the woman said, “Adopted ko.”
I nodded politely. Then she said, “Hindi niya alam.”
Seeing my surprise, she quickly added that she didn’t treated her adopted daughter any differently from her biological children: “She went to the same school they did.”
Though it wasn’t my business to pass judgment, I could only imagine myself as an adult and finding out I’m adopted.
Eleven-year-old Emil* still doesn’t know he’s adopted. His adoptive mother Vivian* is single, in her 40s, and working abroad.
“We haven’t told him yet. I know it’s six or seven years overdue,” said Vivian.
She has long wanted to tell him, but Vivian’s parents don’t want to, not yet, if at all. Since they are Emil’s primary caregivers, they have the final say.
Emil entered their lives unexpectedly. “I really was not thinking about it, it just happened,” Vivian recalled.
No definitive answer
When should children be told that they’re adopted?
There is no definitive answer, as all adoption stories are unique. But in an online forum in adoption.com, a post by “NDN” made a lot of sense: “Between ages 7 and 9. The basics of all the major things a child needs to know (their adoption story, sex ed, etc.) should already be cemented in their minds before the onset of puberty.
“It’s one thing for details to come through at later times (age appropriateness being a factor), but the foundation needs to be set by then to not cause a major disruption in the formation of their identity. Adoption adds a dimension to identity formation, and late discovery can be devastating.
“Generally, the earlier children learn about these things, the easier it is for them to incorporate it into the internal story of who they are. The basic idea is for there to not be a huge revelation, but for it to have always been their normal.”
Adopting a stranger
Mercedes* adopted Jose* in 2004. She was 40 years old and just had a miscarriage, while her 16-year-old daughter Lia* was still hoping for a sibling.
“At first, we considered adopting a relative, but I remembered my cousin being adopted by my aunt and they had conflicts within the family,
Mercedes recounted. “So I preferred to adopt a stranger who needed help because then I would be free to raise him in the way I saw fit.”
Mercedes and her husband agreed to adopt via a midwife she knew. “The child’s father said he would come back but he didn’t,” she recalled. “The birth mom was young … She already had another child out of wedlock and so she had to give up this baby because they were very poor.”
When Mercedes saw the baby, Lia refused to let him go. “I told Lia that if I won’t be able to give him a good education, since the three of us decided on him, she would have to make sure he finishes school,” Mercedes said.
Jose has always known that he’s adopted. “‘Anak, hindi ako yung totoong mama mo. Pero anak pa rin kita,’” Mercedes would often say. “When he got bigger, I had him watch teleseryes that had ampon characters. I wanted him exposed to how they can be bida or kontrabida.”
Mercedes was worried that Jose would get picked on in school or get bullied for being adopted. “I coach him on what to say back to possible mean kids: ‘Eh ano ngayon, inggit kayo? Ang alam ko mahal na mahal ako ng mga magulang ko at kapatid ko.’”
If there’s anything she would like the public to know, if adoption is something she would encourage, Mercedes said: “The willingness has to be there. The moment I adopted Jose, there was doubt, yes, but I knew I was ready. Financially, di ako sure, pero kung sa ’yo, sa ’yo.”
What should prospective adoptive parents prepare for?
Mercedes said, “There must be something that binds you and your child that both of you can draw from when the going gets tough. There must be constant correction and these are all challenges while he’s growing up, just like raising any other kid. Kung lumaki siyang matino, then that’s good, pero kung salbahe, then you have done something wrong. Fix it.”
Today, Mercedes is 59 while Jose is 11. “He competes in triathlons,” she proudly said.
In 2014—after years of fertility struggles and getting diagnosed with thyroid cancer—Tessa Acosta, 41, and her husband Migs adopted Maika, 2.
“I truly believe God led me to adoption,” Tessa said.
A family friend who knew of the Acostas’ fertility woes and initial attempt at adopting thought of them when someone offered her a baby. “After I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and felt that God was sending me messages to consider adoption, I prayed that He lead me to the child He wanted me to adopt since I wasn’t sure where to start,” recalled Tessa.
They haven’t told Maika yet about her origins. “As soon as she can have a longer attention span to appreciate books or movies about adoption (like “Annie,” or superheroes/characters who were adopted, etc.) then we will tell her,” said Tessa, “at least to familiarize her with the concept of adoption.”
Is there anything she would have done differently, thus far?
“Maybe I should have consulted with a lawyer beforehand so that I would be aware of legal issues,” said Tessa. “I was only able to consult with a Department of Social Welfare and Development social worker before proceeding with the adoption since it all happened so fast.”
Is adoption something she would encourage?
“I was shocked at how many children are out there needing a family. I had fears of all the drama that comes with adoption— issues of how to tell the child, bullying in school, family acceptance, etc.—but was lucky to meet a stranger who told me that there’s basically no difference between raising a biological child and an adopted child, since she had both. What matters is that you shower the child with all the love and affection that you can offer.
“But you need to make sure that you are truly open and accepting because the child’s concept of the situation will be based on how you feel about it, as well.
“So, if the child feels that there’s nothing to hide or be ashamed of, then he/she can stand tall and be proud of being brought up by a loving family. And be ready that, someday, the child may still want to know about his/her biological parents.”—CONTRIBUTED
* Names have been withheld to protect their real identities.