This Is Us

What the ‘Better Life’ Narrative Takes From Adoptees

Every adoption story is different

Mindy Stern
Published in
7 min readAug 14, 2020


Photo by Artem from Pexels

“If I’d known, I would have raised you. I don’t know if you would’ve had a better life. My parents would have wanted you too. They would have helped.”

My biological father said that to me when I found him two years ago. I was 50 — the same age my birth mother was when she died of colon cancer. She died before I found her. She told no one about me, not even my father.

I was born in 1968 to an unwed woman who did not know she was pregnant. Conventional wisdom assumed my life would be better if a married couple — a doctor and a homemaker who had adopted a boy four years earlier — parented me.

Perhaps. But do we know that for sure?

No. We can’t. All we know for sure is my life was different.

The dominant culture narrative of adoption presumes that adoption gives the adoptee a better life. Common assumptions are the birth parent did not want the child, the birth parent could not afford to provide for the child, the birth parent was negligent, abusive, or somehow incapable of parenting, that adoptive parents so wanted this child (and went to great expense) — their desire makes them better parents.

There are cases when adoption is in the best interest of the child and they live a better life. But most adoptions are a trade-off of pros and cons.

And most of what people think about adoption is wrong.

Did you know an alarming number of birth mothers felt lied to and coerced when deciding to surrender their babies? Or that studies have indicated that at least 10% of adoptions are disrupted, meaning the “adoption process is halted after the child is placed in the home but before the paperwork is finalized”? And not all adoptive parents turn out to be so wonderful for the adoptee. Did you know that since 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers has remained opposed to transracial adoption because of a history of unethical treatment of Black children and families?

To understand the full scope of the adoption experience, we must challenge and change its narrative.