Mardi Link: What the news gets wrong about adoption and abortion

·4 min read

Jul. 17—'Aren't you glad you weren't aborted?"

In the weeks since Roe v. Wade was overturned, people who know I was adopted say this to me with some regularity.

It's infuriating.

"Whew," I say, miming a finger-swipe of sweat from my brow. "I bet you're glad you weren't aborted either, am I right?"

This is sure to garner a slack-jawed look of confusion.

Which, I must admit, feels quite delicious in the moment, but soon sours.

Because their question confirms for me the public's simplistic image of adoption as a way for "bad" women to redeem themselves hasn't changed since I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.

Newsflash: "Good" people also get pregnant unexpectedly. They can be tall, short, married, divorced or single. Highway designers can experience a crisis pregnancy and so can school bus drivers.

Strippers can get pregnant unexpectedly, also librarians.

My birthmother, in fact, was a freckle-faced redhead studying to be a librarian. Her decision to relinquish me was economic. She told me if she refused her parents would have disowned her and stopped paying for college.

Our beginnings were like everyone else's, but then a human hand decided who would raise us.

That human part is a crapshoot, yet when adoptees publicly share our conflicted and complicated feelings about being adopted, we're labeled ungrateful, spoiled or disturbed.

My industry, the news media, bears some responsibility for this.

One of a news reporter's most useful tools is citing scientific data, yet the only statistics in news stories about adoption I see are the number of adoptive couples waiting for an infant.

Missing in the glowing depictions of these "chosen" families are the studies showing adoptees are four times more likely to die by suicide than non-adoptees.

Or that adoptees are also more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, post-traumatic stress and addiction, than non-adoptees.

Researchers in the late 1990s found 60 to 85 percent of teens at a California correctional school, and 50 to 70 percent of teens at an Illinois correctional school, were adopted.

A more recent study showed students who were adopted were 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with severe emotional disturbance and three times more likely to be expelled from school.

Did you know there are now private groups on social media where disenchanted adoptive parents admit they've changed their minds and seek help "re-homing" their adoptive children?

In contrast, my own childhood was actually pretty close to the fairytale that news reporters are so fond of portraying in stories about adoption.

I was raised by smart, loving, capable and fun, public school educators. They are my parents, and I love and am devoted to them beyond measure. My mom and I recently spent a weekend together, just her and I, at the family cottage on Lake Huron. My dad died in 2018 and I miss him so much, there are days when grief feels like a physical blow.

I grow my own vegetables, raised three sons to adulthood, give money to animal welfare organizations, own a house, am happily married, was confirmed Lutheran, have a master's degree and published five books, one of which was a New York Times bestseller.

Every advantage, every privilege, came my way via adoption, and yet I also feel conflicted about being adopted.

Adoptees like me do not know our medical history, our genealogy, who our ancestors were, where they came from or anything else about our history, unless we go looking.

Which in some states means breaking the law.

In Michigan, we are not allowed a copy of our original birth certificate without a court order.

In elementary school, when our homework assignment was to fill in the blanks on a print-out of a large-canopied tree, we'd dutifully write down the names of people long dead.

And it felt like a lie.

The truth about adoption is darker, more interesting, more complex and more human than the public has been lead to believe.

And it has very little to do with abortion.

In our post-Roe society, if you really want to understand what an adopted person thinks about either of these topics, ask them.

Then listen.

Email Senior Reporter Mardi Link at