Not just one story

By TAO – 17 Nov 2014

It’s time once again to include my favorite TED Talk in a post.  This is the fifth time I have posted it over the years, so many of you have already watched it, but if you are like me, it’s always worth revisiting the message she offers in such a compelling way.  If you haven’t listened to the talk the rest of the post won’t make much sense…

“Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”



“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali”.  It’s a noun loosely translates to “to be greater than another”. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principal of nkali: how they are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability to tell the story of another person but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

None of us have a single story.  Some of us may talk a lot about being adopted, but that is not the only aspect of who we are.  Many of us never even considered being adopted as something other than just part of who we were.  We didn’t talk about any feelings because how could we explain it in words to others not adopted, and hope they could understand.  For some of us the internet gave us a community.  We discovered a world filled with other adoptees, some mirrored our feelings, some just a little bit, others not even close – but we all had one thing in common – we were adopted.  We shared the harder parts, that we’d never told to anyone, oh, the feeling of being with others like us.

We also found out that the current generation of prospective and adoptive parents were a completely mixed bag – some were thirsty for knowledge, some were cautiously open, others thought we were making a big deal out of nothing, some even mocked us….

My story did not start the day I was adopted, my story started with two middle class families, one had a daughter, my mother, the other a son, my father.  Two families that had solutions to be found and decisions to be made.  The decision was that they couldn’t find a way to make it work so that I could stay.  That’s where my life was irrevocably changed, the decision made before I was born.  Once that happened I was to be joined to another family.  A good family, a typical family, a life that was filled with joy, love, good times, and of course our fair share of bad times as well, like every other family.  My story did not end there, it was just the beginning of so much more.

Mom and dad did not have a single story that began and ended with adopting us.  Their story includes each of their families and how those families became one with their joining.  Their story also includes their lives together decade after decade, it includes adopting us, both the good, the love, joy, fun, and not so good parts that sometimes got really hard.  Their story will have similarities and differences to the story of any family, both the good and bad that go hand in hand with living a very long time, but that is their story to tell.

All of this is to say, there is no one single story of adoption, or what adoption is…

That’s why it’s so important to listen to all sides in adoption, instead of just the dominant voice of adoptive parent stories, because even with hearing their voices, you are only hearing part of their story, the one they want others to know.  You can’t get a true sense of what adoption is like from only hearing from one group in adoption.  Adoption is a complicated mix of many people’s stories.  Stories that involve love, joy, heartbreak and sorrow.  Stories from the family of birth that is not just the mother and father, there are two entire families, parents, grandparents, siblings, and each with their own stories that collectively make the story of who they are as a family.

And finally, you have the stories of the people who are adopted, their stories of being linked to both families, regardless if they have relationships with one, or both of their families.  Their stories expand forward to building their own families, and lives that may be complicated by being adopted in so many different ways.  I think, ultimately, the adoptee’s story is likely the most complicated one, their nature and nurture have been split, and there will always be missing pieces of their story, and they are the one who links both families stories into one story, theirs.

We all have far more than a single story, each of our stories are different.  You need to hear many stories from all the different parties to adoption to understand how complicated adoption can be.  There is no way one can say ‘this is adoption’, or adoption is all good, or all bad – all you can really say is every adoption story is complicated, and usually involves every type of happiness, and loss, all woven into one.