' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: The Declassified Adoptee Tells All

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Declassified Adoptee Tells All

Amanda Transue-Woolston
Adoption, to the adopted, is rife with hard questions: Aren’t you glad you were adopted? How do your adoptive parents feel about you searching for your other family? What do you want from them? What if you find out your father raped your mother? What if you search and she doesn’t want to know you? Aren’t your [adoptive] parents enough? You never said anything about adoption, so I figured it didn’t mean much to you…? What do you say when someone says their friend’s sister is adopted and she “loves it?” And the biggest question of all, that most people never asks: “Why is it that lying in adoption isn’t seen as wrong?”

Amanda Transue-Woolston, known to many as The Declassified Adoptee, answers all of these questions and more in her collection of revealing essays drawn from her popular blog of the above name. Why declassified? Because Transue-Woolston was able to unlock her own original birth certificate and her adoption file, thus her birth and adoption data was declassified.

As always, Transue-Woolston—or as I know her from our emails, Amanda—brings clarity of thought and depth of understanding to the myriad questions that adoptees face in their lives, and she does it without bitterness or rancor, no small feat. Even when she is writing about how her first mother was led to believe that her 1985 adoption was “open,” in the sense that her daughter’s adoptive parents always knew her name, her anger is muted because she knows she is addressing an entire system of beliefs and practices, not a single individual. Speaking of a social worker she dealt with, she writes:
“When you responded to me saying, ‘names were not exchanged at the time of your adoption,’ (which was a generalization and not my mother’s actual wishes), and ‘I’ll look in your file to see if there’s anything in there that you can have,’ and later when the social worker sent me an expensive fee schedule, I felt like an intruder in to my own adoption system rather than what I actually am--a client, a consumer, a participant. I have never any say within this system that has profoundly impacted my life.”
 Yet she does not blame the employee for “just following agency policy." 

Though I, as a first mother, have been involved more than four decades in the infinite intricacies of the adoptee experience—Transue-Woolston still provides fresh insights to questions that are the opposite of what we first mothers encounter. For instance, how many of us have not heard, What if you search and your daughter/son doesn’t want to know you? Transue-Woolston has heard the question this way: "What if you search and she doesn’t want to know you?" Her answer: “What if she does?"

Elsewhere the subject of searching comes up again: “We do not know if we will find open arms, a door slammed on our faces, or even a grave. We may have religions, world views, politics ideas, cultural practices, and languages that differ from those of our original families...." 

How many of us have been asked. "What if your son/daughter doesn't want to be found? What about the adoptive family...implying: You are likely to be intruding!" How swell now to have this ready answer: What if my child is waiting for me to find her? And like adoptees, first mothers too have to face not knowing what they will find--possibly someone with differences in religion, politics, culture. We have to be able to meet the challenge of finding someone who is not whom we expect, and accept the differences that have grown out of a different life experience than we would have given her. 

On the subject of "Better Off Not Knowing," Transue-Woolston cuts through that canard swiftly, acknowledging that her adoptive parents handled her own situation honestly--she was conceived by rape--and comes to this conclusion: "Ultimately, it's not about giving people information they do not want or forcing someone to know something they do not want to know. It's about empowering them to make the choice to receive the information if they feel it is important to them." From the perspective of a first mother, this means that when asked by our reunited children, we tell the truth, even if the truth is embarrassing or presents us in a bad light. We give information we are asked for, we do not need to volunteer what is not asked.
My reading version

The essay, "Six Ways I Appreciate Biology," should be read by every first mother who is delaying a search, or still hiding in the closet, or afraid of the day when a son or daughter calls. Think of that person, perhaps a woman about to give birth herself, being asked the question: How much did you weigh when you were born? Before reunion, her answer had to be: "I don't know, I'm adopted." Now Transue-Woolston can say: Eight pounds, six ounces. Exactly one pound lighter than my first born." Consider the missing medical history of a not-found son or daughter, or how we relish knowing, for instance, that some ancestor shared a writing talent or a fashion sense, or loved to bake or do hair? Consider now not ever knowing any of those things about yourself, and reflect on the hole it would leave in your own life. 

Transue-Woolston writes that she regrets she did not speak up more to her friends about the realities of being adopted when she was growing up, but certainly she is making up for that now. Her essays—32 in all—cover the big questions anyone might have about what it might be like to be adopted in a good family, feel the need to search, do the search, reunite with that original family, and integrate both families into her life. She writes that she can be honest about her feelings to both, but that honesty needs to be “delicately balanced with acceptance of my families," and that should no one should be "barred or talked out of sharing grief.”

She writes that she relates to her two mothers differently, "but not in a way that needs to be seen as competition between the two." Transure-Woolston was fortunate in that though her adoptive mother had fears and insecurities, she has come to understand her daughter's feelings and needs. This happy marriage of minds and spirits is partly what makes this collection of essays so valuable to all members of the adoption triangle for it provides a welcome template for others on the brink of search and reunion. 

The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of an Adoption Activist, in clear and plain language, provides a wealth of emotional intelligence answering the difficult questions that adoptees face from the moment they learn they were not born into a family, but adopted instead. Without unnecessary verbiage, Transue-Woolston gets to the heart of the matter of what it means to be adopted, and what needs to change in adoption today. First mothers reluctant to search, adoptive parents fearful of an adoptee's reunion, and adoptees anywhere on the journey will all find much to savor in this wise collection of essays from someone who is destined to be among the leaders of the next wave of adoption reformers.--lorraine

Order by clicking on the title or the book jacket. A paperback edition will be available in the coming months. Ordering from FMF is GREATLY APPRECIATED.

Amanda's blog: The Declassified Adoptee


  1. I've always enjoyed reading Amanda's blog and look forward to reading the paperback edition of the book when it becomes available. A few minutes ago, I just finished filling out an online medical form for a surgical procedure I'm having done. One of the questions deemed very important was related to medical history and I was prompted to answer it as honestly as I could unless, of course I couldn't due to adoption. No one should be put in this position simply because those in powerful positions choose to withhold such information from adoptees. Sealing records should be illegal. Period.

  2. My daughter and I were talking about her first mother yesterday while she was driving me 80 miles to the hospital I was referred to from our local ER. Her mother died when Emily was 7 but of course we didn't know it at the time. It's sad for me that I never met her but of course for Em it's a much deeper tragedy. It's good because we are very open with one another, I can't imagine what it's like for adoptees whose adoptive parents are so closed to reunion.

  3. Sealing records should have always been illegal, Gail--it's immoral. If more people like Amanda spoke up, the records would be open sooner.

    There outta be a law AGAINST sealed birth records.

  4. @Victoria,

    I totally agree.

  5. You need to see this. Just came out today in ICTMN: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/10/16/adult-son-couple-adopting-deseray-says-they-were-abusive-parents-151775

    A passage:

    “As a father, I feel for Jeremy Simmons and I can't even imagine what it would feel like to have someone just come and snatch your kid,” Josh says. “As for the tribe, it's also a shame on the adoption industry. To me it feels like this was the 1700s, when they were raiding Indian settlements and taking their kids. Nothing has changed. But as a Christian, I am opposed to Nightlight because it feels like as long as people pay them money, they're justifying these adoptions and the manner in which they're doing it. It's disgusting."

  6. Please contact Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt at:

    918-581-2885 or


    to insist that South Carolina return Baby Desirai Simmons to Oklahoma immediately.



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