I’m an Adoptee Who Works at an Adoption Agency

Jenna is a social worker at American Adoptions and an adoptee who grew up in a closed adoption. She works with pregnant women who are considering adoption. She’s also recently reunited with her birth parents. Her interview below has been edited for clarity.

Meet Jenna

I was placed in a closed adoption through Catholic Charities. My adoptive parents met my birth parents three weeks before I was born, but that was the only contact they had — just the one time.

What Did Your Parents Tell You About the Time They Met Your Birth Parents?

My mom and dad met my birth parents at an early nineties equivalent to an Applebee’s. My mom said she was so nervous. She told me she’d worried about normal adoptive parent stuff, like, “What do I wear? I didn’t want to come across as being too pretentious, but I didn’t want them to think that we weren’t able to take care of you. And I analyzed every little detail, like my blouse and did I look put-together but not too put-together and that kind of stuff.” They sat there with my birth parents talking for about three hours.

I guess my birth mom treated it as a kind of interview. You know: “I read your guys’ profile. I like it. I have to meet you guys, but you need to promise me certain things.”

After we reunited this year, my birth father told me, “I could either be along for the ride or I could not be a part of it.” I think that’s true for most birth fathers. But he said that meeting my parents and seeing that they were real people — he said that it helped him a lot at the time.

My mom always said, “Your birth mother knew exactly what she wanted for you. We promised them that we would give you everything that we could under the sun.” My birth mom mostly just wanted me to have a happy, healthy life. And my birth mom was Catholic, so she liked that my parents were Catholic. It wasn’t so much about my parents having more money than her or anything.

How Was Adoption Talked About When You Were Growing Up?

I was born two days after Christmas, but I had to stay in the hospital a little bit because I had jaundice and then there was huge snow storm. So, a wonderful social worker actually took me to my home.

I would tell people I was home-delivered. The stork does exist! I have home video of me and my parents meeting for the first time. My brother and extended family members and everybody was there waiting. That was New Year’s Eve. So, New Year’s Eve is now “Jenna Day.” My mom still calls me to wish me a Happy Jenna Day and sends me a card.

Growing up, “Jenna Day” was always a specific time when we talked about my birth parents — how much they love me and why they made this decision. And my parents would talk about how I was special because I had extra people that loved me. I never knew that there was a stigma associated with birth parents or adoption. I walked into my kindergarten class, and went, “I’m Jenna and I’m adopted!” Then, as I grew up, I started to realize that maybe everybody’s adoption story wasn’t quite like mine.

When I was a little kid, my understanding of adoption was mostly of Jenna Day. My parents would have me watch that video of me coming home. When I was really young, I thought that the woman — the social worker — was my birth mom. So I’d ask things like, “Mom, am I going to look like her?” And she was like, “That’s not your birth mom!” But in my mind: here’s this woman that gives the baby to the parents, so she must be the birth mom.

Growing up, I stood as the token adopted kid for anyone ever. I knew other people in my high school that were also adopted, mostly because people would come up to me and tell me. They knew my story — everyone knew that I was adopted. I was very open. It was all my choice to tell people, because I looked just like the rest of my family. I had the luxury of choosing when to share my adoption story and what not to share. That’s not the case in transracial adoptions, where you walk into a restaurant and people are like, “Whose kid is that? That’s not your kid.” I didn’t have that to deal with that. But I know that was a struggle for other adoptees.

My brother and I always had the option of choosing to say it or not. But whenever I’d say that I was adopted, other kids would ask me all kinds of questions, which never annoyed me. I kind of just used it to be like the spokesperson of adoption.

Is Your Brother’s Story Similar to Yours?

My story was so easy. But my brother’s adoption story wasn’t as easy.

I have an older brother who’s also adopted, but we’re not biologically related. I was the kid who wanted to know every little thing, like, “What did you all eat at the restaurant when you met my birth parents?” But my brother really didn’t care about that kind of thing. I think that’s because he had a lot of medical issues growing up, but his birth mom didn’t provide any info to help him with that.

His birth mom hadn’t picked a family when he was born, and they didn’t know his medical state, so they just kind of kept him in the hospital for, like, three months. My birth parents gave full social and medical histories, and my parents got to meet them, but my brother’s birth mom didn’t know who the father was and she didn’t give any info about herself. So, I think my brother has a bit more animosity towards his whole adoption.

I don’t think that my brother would have had such a hard time with his adoption story if he had more access to his own medical history or background, especially with the health issues he had growing up. I think he has some resentment there. Like, “You didn’t leave me like with file of basic information, nothing?” I don’t know if he would be interested in knowing his birth parents.

Do These Experiences Affect How You Talk to the Pregnant Women You Work With?

My brother is a bit resentful at his birth mom for not providing more information. So, I try to explain the importance of providing detailed medical and social information when I talk to pregnant women: “You know, I don’t think you understand how important this piece of information could be. It’s annoying paperwork right now, but this could save their lives.”

I love our online forms at American Adoptions because it’s more accessible for women, but I always encourage the women I work with to fill it out by hand, because I think for the adoptee, having her handwriting can be important. Or those little keepsake books that American Adoptions has for women to fill out that we pass on to the adoptee. Most women don’t fill those out, because they’re not emotionally ready, or they’re dealing with a lot in their lives and it’s a lower priority thing. But, if I would’ve had that growing up in a closed adoption, it would have been amazing. I would have loved to know that my birth mom’s favorite animal was a raccoon. It sounds stupid, but it would have been really great. Yeah. That would have been really important.

Catholic Charities had something similar that my birth parents filled out, and my birth mom was like, “I like to play tennis!” Oh my God, why do I remember that? It was amazing. My mom let me look at that stuff whenever I wanted when I was growing up.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions that You’ve Encountered as an Adoptee?

We weren’t rich. I think that was a common misconception about adopted kids. I lived a normal life with two working parents. We had everything we could need, but we certainly weren’t rich. If I wanted something, it wasn’t just handed to me because I was adopted.

You can grow up with perfect adoptive parents, but it doesn’t shelter you from all the terrible experiences that childhood can bring. No matter who they are, your parents can’t protect you from everything.

How Did People React When You Shared Your Adoption Story?

People always asked: “Have you met your ‘real’ parents? Do you know what they look like? Do you know where they are?” And then I had people that would come to me in private and tell me, “I’m also adopted, but I haven’t been dealing with it very well.” I had that happen a few times in high school and in college where I was just somewhere and being open about my story and talking about it in a positive light, and people would approach me later. I really credit my parents for talking about my adoption story positively and always being honest. But yeah, I learned some people did not have great adoption stories like I did.

A lot of people who meet their birth parents don’t have it go the way they had hoped. And what’s funny is a lot of people would want to take on the search for my birth parents for me. When I’d tell my story, they’d get fired up. They’re like, “We’re gonna find them!”

Even after I’d found my birth father, some extended family members were saying, “Your mom is in this state, and we know what she does for a living, so we can Google this right now! We can find her, and we can l do this!” I’m like, “I know we probably could, guys!” A lot of people wanted to find my birth parents and had more interest in it than I did. I think they feel like they need to complete your story.

For me, being adopted is just a thing. It’s not that big a deal. But I once told some people that I was adopted, and this guy goes, “Wow, you’re pretty normal for an adopted kid.” And I remember that was the first time I had ever realized that maybe adopted kids weren’t seen as normal by some people, because I was raised in kind of a sheltered adoption that was really positive. In my family, it was always so amazing.

Why Do You Like Sharing Your Adoption Story?

So there’s a lot of stuff like “This is Us.” I haven’t watched it but all my friends call me saying, “Oh my god, this happened with so-and-so’s birth mom.” And I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’m sure it’s been sensationalized beyond belief.”

A lot of the pregnant women I work with at American Adoptions come in with that being their only experience with adoption. I think putting a real person to it is immensely helpful. I was watching some show with my husband the other night, and it was all about this adopted girl who had super powers or something. They always do. Heroes, but lately villains, are always adopted. It’s like, “Oh, of course, great.”

I think sharing your story, whether it’s adoption or anything else, can probably benefit someone. And I love hearing other people’s experiences. I think just sharing my story helps de-stigmatize things for so many people.