Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Hope! Could you start by giving me a little background about yourself?
I was born in Philadelphia and currently live in Philadelphia, although I lived in New Jersey most of my childhood. I was adopted shortly after birth. I am a Social Worker who works at a crisis center. Previously, I have run programs for people returning from incarceration and/or experiencing homelessness. Currently, I work part-time and spend half my time with my young son.
That’s wonderful but tough work-good for you! It seems like a lot of us adoptees are drawn to the kind of work that revolves around helping others.
I find the work incredibly rewarding and it definitely comes naturally to me to relate to those who have experienced trauma of various kinds. I was very drawn to working with people returning from incarceration and I never knew why until one particular night in the program- We were all gathered and people began to share their experiences from childhood of being separated from one or both of their parents for various reasons. When I heard their pain, sadness, and anger, I realized I could hear mine too. And ultimately, I think that’s been a big part of what drew me to do this work.
It sounds like you really found your calling!
Yes, it has been the best experience of my life. I learned the power of telling my story and my truth from the people in the program who told their stories in front of hundreds of people at our graduations. That’s why I am sharing today. I would never have done this if it hadn’t been for their strength and courage. I’ve learned so much.
Could you give me a little more insight into what it was like for you growing up as an adoptee?
Well, let’s start with my name. I used to feel uncomfortable with my name being “Hope”. I was named that because my parents “hoped” for me and got me. But I’ve come to really embrace that name because it really does give people hope and cheers people right up when they meet me.
Growing up, I was incredibly shy due to social anxiety. I had a small, close-knit group of friends but basically didn’t talk to anybody else. I was always worried I would say the wrong thing and that somebody wouldn’t like me so instead, I said nothing.
And what was/is your relationship like with your adoptive family?
I have a great relationship with my adoptive family. My parents are wonderful people with great values. My dad has worked a lot of his career to get people affordable housing and my mom has always practiced radical hospitality and put a big emphasis on family and togetherness which has inspired me both in my professional and personal life. My brother and I have bonded and he is an amazing uncle to my son. I also have a close relationship with my extended family too. Despite the great relationship with my adoptive family, I still always desired to meet my birth family from a young age and often thought about them.
Have you ever had any contact with your birth family?
I found out the names of both of my birth parents about 7 years ago and was able to easily find them. Unfortunately, I don’t have relationships with either side currently. However, I am optimistic that one day in the future I can have relationships with my birth parents and half-siblings. This is still something very important to me, and I haven’t lost hope.
It used to be very upsetting to me that things didn’t work out as I had hoped, but I’ve come to accept it more over the years. I’ve said what I needed to say and I feel empowered by that in spite of not getting the results I may have wanted.
It’s definitely all about time, acceptance, and healing.
Today when I was in the car driving, I had a thought. As a social worker, we are always discussing how labels can affect how people see themselves and how others see them. For instance, instead of saying “a convicted felon”, one would say “returning citizen” or “justice-involved person” or really, ultimately, in my opinion- a person. So, I am a person who is adopted, but I don’t have to just be an “adoptee”. I am many things. Being adopted is just one part of the person that I am.
When I first got into unpacking my adoption journey, it felt like it suddenly explained all my issues. I was just so glad to have figured out why I was so messed up and that others were in the same boat. So as I begin to heal, I feel like it doesn’t always serve me to see myself as just an adoptee and blame everything on that because I’m a multi-faceted person that has experienced so many things that have shaped me.
In my own healing experiences, I’ve been told similar things- to not let ourselves be defined by our emotions, for example. Instead of “I am anxious”, “I am a human being experiencing feelings of anxiety”.
Yes! Exactly that. We are all human. I have found when I think about that and make a point to see the humanness in everybody (my birth family, my adoptive family, the clients I work with), I realize that we all experience the same types of feelings. I am a lot more understanding of where each person is coming from because in the end, we are all people. “Hurt people, hurt people” as they say. And I’ve definitely I hurt people. It is so important to show people how much they are valued and loved so that maybe they can begin to love themselves. It’s definitely a journey and one that I am finally feeling good about being on.
What do you wish more people knew about the adoptee experience? And is there anything you wish more adoptive parents knew?
I wish that more people listened to the voices of people who are adopted- our voices matter. I wish that many people didn’t think that just because you were adopted as an infant, that means you didn’t experience trauma that has a lasting impact on your life. I wish that adoption wasn’t made to look like it’s all rainbows and fairy tales. I wish that there was more support for parents that want to keep their babies, both emotionally and financially. I wish adoptive parents were educated by adoption agencies about what adoptees experience and get training in supporting their children. I wish they could hear from adoptees themselves prior to adopting. I know many adoptive parents that would have done things differently if they had known, but they just didn’t know.
At what point did you decide you wanted to start connecting with other adoptees?
I have always wanted to connect with other people who are adopted. I have always had friends who were adopted and we would sometimes talk about adoption but it wasn’t necessarily a “community”. I was always looking for a support group with other adoptees and I was so glad when Adoptees Connect started up in Philly. I really believe in the power of community and I know the group has personally made me feel extremely supported and empowered.
Lee Rolandi – Adoptees Connect, Inc. Writer/Editor/Publisher