Adoptees Crossing Lines

Unveiling Adoption's Dark Realities: Saviorism and Adoptive Parents' Narcissism

January 13, 2023 Dr. Noelle, Tosha, Lia Season 1 Episode 5
Adoptees Crossing Lines
Unveiling Adoption's Dark Realities: Saviorism and Adoptive Parents' Narcissism
Show Notes Transcript

The fact that there are more rigorous mental health requirements for people who want to do weight loss surgeries than there are for adoptive parents is a shame. Adoptive parents think they’ve done us a huge favor and “saved” our lives, that without them we’d be worse off - that’s the lie the whole industry is built on. Holding up that lie is racism, colonialism, and narcissism. The adoption industry thrives on centering the role of adoptive parents as saviors…so we pick that lie apart and reflect on why infertility is not a good enough reason to qualify for adoption. 

What we discussed 

(00:00) What is adoption saviorism?

(05:02) Racism and colonialism in adoption 

(09:57) Adoptive home = good; biological home = bad OR BIGGEST myth of the adoption industry

(13:05) Who is “entitled” to adopt?

(16:33) Infertility is NOT a reason to adopt 

(19:31) Mental health checks for adoptive parents

(21:09) The lie of selflessness  OR Power dynamics of saviorism 


Follow us on social media: Twitter | Instagram | Tiktok


Special thanks to Samuel Oyedele for editing our podcast, support his work on Instagram or e-mail him at

Learn more about

Lia    00:00:05    Hey everybody. Welcome to Adoptees Crossing Lines, the not so Feel Good podcast. If you're looking for something that's grateful adoptees, this isn't the one for you, go ahead and keep scrolling and looking for another podcast. That's not where we're about over here.  
Lia    00:00:20    All right, we're back for episode six. Today we're gonna be talking about adoption as it relates to saviorism and narcissism as it relates to adoptive parents. So to start us off, if you had to define saviorism for our listeners, how would you define that in your own words?  
Dr. Noelle    00:00:41    Saviorism to me is this compulsion to center the self. So it's about you. And you imagine that the, the object of your saving could not survive or exist without you. And so an adoption that translates to an adoptive parent who believes that the child that they're adopting is being saved by them and could not survive without them, that there was no other possible  
Tosha    00:01:14    Option. Well, goodness, that is a very hard one to follow. <laugh>, I echo all of that 110%. But yes, I feel like saviorism is very self-centered. Cuz like the key word I heard was like, you make it up, it's all in your head that you doing this thing is gonna like be this grandiose ge gesture. But it's, it's, it's all in your head. And I feel like saviorism can be very, very dangerous because it is so self-centered.  
Lia    00:01:40    Yeah, it's pretty hard to, to follow doc there. But <laugh>, if I had to define saviorism in my own words, I think it's the idea that you are saving or rescuing someone, but really it's under the guise of centering yourself and meeting your own needs and tossing aside the needs of the individual that you are, quote unquote saving.  
Dr. Noelle    00:02:10    Not e not even, uh, sorry, Lia. Um, not even tossing aside, uh, the needs of that person, but not even being able to identify the fact that they have needs.  
Lia    00:02:23    Yeah, I think you bring up a really good point because I think the thing about adoption is a lot of time when it, a lot of times when it is spoken about in mainstream media, it's, what do they call it? Your, your gotcha day, right? Why are we referring That is also something that they use for animals, right? Or like rehoming, like why, why are we referring to people in that way? But, uh, the adoption at the end of the day, first of all, it's a business, it's an industry, it's profitable, and they want to keep it that way. It is in their best interest to keep children continuing to be adopted and not reuniting them with their family because there is no money in that, right? And adoption at its core doesn't ever center the adoptee. It centers the adoptive family, the adoptive parents, right?  
Lia    00:03:24    Because for whatever reason they're choosing to adopt, whether it be due to infertility, whether it be they just feel like they want to, whatever the case may be, it is not truly about the child. Because I can guarantee you, especially if you're an adoptive family or parent that has biological children, you would not be okay if your biological children went into the system or went into another family. You would be kicking and crying and screaming and all of that. But it's okay for you to break apart somebody else's family so that you can quote, unquote build your own.  
Tosha    00:04:06    Well, I think they make it so that the baby needs saving, where you have a situation where everyone's different. I know that, but like maybe there could have been resources or maybe they could have reached out to other family members, but nope, they don't say that. Nope, people come in here, you want a baby? Please save this baby. You saving this baby is, it's gonna make your life wonderful, great, complete, whatever, whatever. So that, you know, goes back to it being in an industry. But I feel like saviorism is built in part of its core. That's part of the selling. You gotta make them feel good. You gotta, you know, it's, they're paying for this, right? So not only am I, I'm, I'm, it's transactional, but now I have this child, I'm gonna save it and I'm gonna be this great person. So it really, I know every adopted parent doesn't feel that way, but it is a, it's, it's a, it's a lot out there. And that's how it's propagandized, that's how it's advertised. And it's always, not always, but I, I see it a lot more with African American or other races like, um, it's for like the transracial adoptions where they're thinking they're taking a child from a less desirable situation. Um, and let me take you to my economic lifestyle and this will make you better. And I see that happening quite often.  
Dr. Noelle    00:05:23    I am a transracial adoptee. And what I know in my adoptive family was that they framed the way that they saved me by showing me examples in the black community of deficit. And, um, they wanted to make sure that I knew that if I had been left with my biological mother, that I'd be living in a ghetto. I can remember my adoptive mother telling me I'd be living in a ghetto. I need to tell you that my biological mother does not live in anything that could be called a ghetto. Never has. My biological family has never been on welfare, et cetera. So it was just this framing of blackness as deficit of lack and that they had saved me from that, and that they were helping to save me from becoming one of them.  
Lia    00:06:30    Yeah, I think specifically with transracial adoptions, I'm not a transracial adoptee, but I think about like just colonialism and especially when it comes to international adoptions. There's just this big like desire to adopt a child of, of a different race. And even when it comes to, from an economic standpoint, it is often cheaper to adopt a child that is not white, right? And that certainly plays into the factor as well, as well as the fact that black and brown folks are more likely to go into the system, right? Because we're policed more often, which just continues to perpetuate this cycle that we need to be rescued or we need to be saved. I was told similar narratives from my adoptive parents as well, specifically when it came to my mom, right? She used a lot of different drugs and she was a sex worker and, and things like that.  
Lia    00:07:44    And there was just this idea that was put into my head or that I was fed a lot, that I just was going to have this miserable life if I had been with her, right? And there's really no way to say it one way or the other because my mom died and she died. My mom died when she was 28 years old. I'm 28 for context. And so I'm, we're never gonna know like, what that, what that looks like. But this idea that there wasn't any other option out there, like Noel said, it's just, it's just not true. Right? And I think that feeds into like the larger system at play when it comes to the child welfare system. There's, you know, a number of different parties at play, right? Like we have, like the family court system, we have social workers, right? We have Child protective services, DC f we have all of these different, um, all of these different parties that come into play as it relates to adoption.  
Lia    00:08:44    And I think that first of all, at the end of the day, all of these parties operate as agents of the state. And it is not within their interest to protect the child. I know they frame it that way, but it is not in their interest to protect the child. It is in their interest to make sure they meet their numbers, their quotas, all of those sorts of things, right? That is, that is why when it comes to foster care versus adoption when it comes to foster care, right? Like social worker comes and checks on a child periodically when you get adopted, there's none of that, right? Because it's, the deal is done. They said, we've given you somewhere to go. You are good, right? And so, I don't know, there's a, there's a lot of different things at play when it comes to it. And I think that saviorism and specifically like narcissistic tendencies, I think if you were to ask adoptive parents, like, why did you wanna adopt this child? Like nine times outta 10, they would tell you that they wanted to give them a better life. But who's to say that being with you guaranteed a better life,  
Dr. Noelle    00:09:57    The framing of a good home. That's what you just made me think of, Lia, as the way that we frame adoptive households as a good home leaving the biological family is bad homes. And there isn't a way to reverse that once it's done. And I, I think that that's, I think that's a huge problem that the narrative sticks and the child is left feeling like they come from a bad place.  
Tosha    00:10:34    And is also interesting. A lot of case, a lot of situations when people go to adopt is their first child so good home. Like they don't even have experience being parents. So like how can you really say that? And also what Noel said. So you and I kind of thought that, I was told that, you know, they were very young, they had just had a child. They weren't equipped for that. Um, so to, they saved me from that to take me into a good home, who they were, you know, military, they appeared more stable. But my bio also had family and there could have been other resources and things. Now we have contradictions that maybe if they had been talked to, things could have changed. Come to find out my brother didn't have the, they made him come out that he had all these health issues where they couldn't take care of 'em.  
Tosha    00:11:29    And so come to find out that wasn't true. So I don't know where all the lies came from, but I was saved from them to go to, um, parents who appeared to be good people, you know, they got the book of babies and or potential mothers and read through the bios and all of that. And I said, oh, we'll pick her. And the adoption agencies agree, and it goes just like that. But I've always wondered what do they actually have, like background checks? Do they have like real evaluations because that narcissism comes in so much and if y'all were having actual evaluations, you'd probably flag a lot of people <laugh> with the narcissistic tendencies. And people like, well, where do you think that comes from? Well, you've got some people who are just dead set on having a child, whether they should or whether they're equipped or whether it's the right situation.  
Tosha    00:12:19    Maybe it's to save a marriage, maybe it's for whatever reason. And when it's for all those bad reasons is when you have these situations. And sometimes it can even be a terrible situation, but I don't know if it's the Aries in us and being first, but my mother is a bit of a narcissist. I would never tell us who her face, but she might laugh me off. But there are some things that I've seen when it's, and it's a weird how it's a common thread of narcissism in adoption. And that's something that I still, because I see it so often, it is, it's very interesting to me. It's a little puzzling how we got here and how that is a common thread. So I still plan to even research that a little bit more myself because it just baffles me.  
Lia    00:13:05    Tosha, when you were saying something about, you know, essentially just wanting or having to have a child, I think when I think about saviorism, I think a lot about entitlement. And I think a lot about money, right? Because not every adoption money is exchanged, right? In some states you can adopt through the foster care system and the adoption can be free. But in a lot of cases, um, there is money that is involved, right? And only a certain kind of people can end up adopting. You can't adopt if you don't have the means or the resources to be able to do that. I know in my situation, there was an aunt who wanted me and she was unable to adopt me because she did not have the financial resources, right? But we give tax credits to businesses, right? You know, sometimes you look at benefits packages, right? And they'll be like, we'll give you this amount of money to help with, you know, adoption or fertility treatments or whatever. And it sounds really good, but it's really just a tax break. It's, it's not, it's not really all that great. But yeah, I think there are things like that, like Tosha, when you were saying, are we really taking the time to evaluate these people and really figure out if they're a good fit? Or are we just trying to place this child and these people have the resources to make the deal happen?  
Dr. Noelle    00:14:33    I always wonder why my adoptive mother was not required to have therapy, right? The story is that she had this huge number of miscarriages before they adopted me. And for me that means there's trauma. That means that there is a lot of mental health stuff that goes with miscarrying and certainly miscarrying multiple times. Why, why wasn't this person sent to therapy before she was allowed to adopt a child and was, I meant to fix whatever mental health issues she had? And I felt like throughout my life, her mental health was my responsibility managing it, um, being the person to figure out how she was doing and adjust and get my siblings to adjust. But it just had they sent her to a mental health, um, practitioner, is it possible they would've caught her narcissism? And maybe that's why they don't do it. Maybe it would rule out too many people. I don't know.  
Tosha    00:15:48    No, that's an interesting take though, because a lot of adoption comes from infertility and they're not going through. And if you think about our ages, um, mental health and talking to a therapist was unheard of back in different times. It's just now becoming, the stigmas are gone and things like that. That's just an aha moment for me. Sorry, but didn't really think about that. That's a lot of trauma. You know, I've had a miscarriage myself, I've had some things like that, and it is very traumatic. And then just to go from that, then going to getting a baby, there probably should have been some pause, some aftercare, pre-care, some care should have been done. And hopefully something like that changes at some point. Hopefully, uh, that's a good thing for some people to, to hopefully advocate for.  
Lia    00:16:32    Yeah. Similar to you, Noelle, my my adoptive mother, um, struggled with infertility, had, you know, miscarriages and, and things like that. Had a little boy, I think he lived for like 17 hours and then he died and then, you know, insert adoption. And I really think that if she had taken the time to go to therapy like that, I wouldn't be in the picture, right? Because I was never your first option. I was only your backup option because plan A did not work. And I don't believe that we as human beings should be treated like that. You're not entitled to a child just because you can't have one. And I know that may hurt to hear, but it's the, it's the truth. It's reality. Like taking someone else's child, adopting a child is not going to fix your situation. It is only going to put trauma on that child, right? Because you're, you're inevitably going to project all of that onto your child. You, you can't help it, right? You want them to be this thing, this band-aid, whatever. And it's never, it's never going to be that.  
Dr. Noelle    00:17:49    I think of the phrase and then we turned to adoption. You hear that all the time. We tried I v F and then we turned to adoption. We had several miscarriages and then we turned to adoption. So it's always a second or third choice. And it leaves the child in the situation a second or third choice, and it centers the people who have this loss around fertility. It does not center the child.  
Tosha    00:18:22    That was huge for me that the, the reason behind my adoption was shared much, much later. So I spent the majority of my life thinking, oh, that was their first choice. That's what they wanted to do. Cuz that's how they, like, she even bought me a book. You were the chosen one. So I, I went with that for a long time. So when I found out that it was because of infertility, I was devastated, like completely devastated. So hers was so bad that she could not have kids anymore, period. So I'm like, oh, I would've felt better if you would've lied and said you tried to, you wanted to adopt then and also have a biological, but when I found out that I'm only here because that didn't happen, you talk about rehabbing another identity crisis, I was like, okay, that kind of changes my thought processes. Give me a second to go to my dark place and process this. But, um, it's really wild and I think that's a good thing for prospective adoptive parents to hear if your situation is fertility, be mindful of how you talk about that later on in life because they can have devastating consequences on how you handle information like that.  
Dr. Noelle    00:19:31    I am thinking about the way in which I have several friends who are getting bariatric surgery or have had it already the sleeve or, and they are required to go through a mental health check, right? You, but you can have a baby without one. I, I find that just bizarre to me, it's just absolutely bizarre.  
Lia    00:19:57    If they were to start doing these mental health checks, it would essentially crumble the industry as we know it. They would, like Tosha said, there's so many common threads. This is not just a one-off. This is not just me, Tosha, and Noelle talking about narcissism as it relates to our adoptive parents. No, this is a very, very common thread that runs throughout the adoptee community. And I think there's something to be said there, something to be studied there because how can you, how can you be a good parent when you're constantly centering yourself and not thinking about the needs of your child?  
Tosha    00:20:46    I'd be very interested in some research between people who adopt for infertility and people who adopt just to adopt no reason behind it. Just, Hey, I would like to adopt a baby or like to adopt a child. Like what's the, are we gonna find more, more narcissists because of infertility or, you know, where would that lie? Like I would really like for someone to dig into that. That's some interesting stuff there.  
Dr. Noelle    00:21:10    I'm also thinking about the way that they frame the biological mother as giving up her child as a selfless act and this idea of selflessness and the way in which the adoptive parents are framed as saviors,  
Lia    00:21:30    But it's like, is it selflessness if these biological mothers are coerced or not told about all the different options or resources or things available to them? Again, it, it goes back to this idea of we're able to give these resources to adoptive families or to foster parents. Why can we not give those resources to biological or first families to keep these families intact, right? Family, family, pres preservation. Why are we in the business of separating families and why is that make you a good person?  
Dr. Noelle    00:22:13    I also am thinking about the way in which if you have to save someone, they are less than you, right? So we save people from homelessness, we save people from drug addiction, and there's the power dynamic there, right? If I am the savior, I am the better person I'm in, the better position I have, the better life. I have something to give you. And I think, at least in my experience, that sense that I was less than because I had needed to be saved, never went away. And it was the backdrop of every interaction I had with my adoptive mother was that I was less than and I needed saving and I needed to be grateful for having been saved.  
Tosha    00:23:07    I can resonate with that a lot. It gave me, um, I never really had self-esteem issues, but that right there gave me some serious self-worth issues. And having low self-worth has, uh, it has some side effects to it. It can make you go through life just not caring. It can be a very reckless life. It's not good. But the way they frame it, I almost, I kind of felt like nothing. I just kind of felt like you're a little product you got, but I didn't have any sense of like me. And, um,  
Tosha    00:23:44    Uh, let me just go ahead and say it again. Adoption is trauma. <laugh> <laugh>, I, that's, yeah, it's, it's, it's so much that we, that we deal with and, and these concepts and what's interesting and you know, I'm not here to tell anyone what to do with their life, but part of why I'm wanting to be part of this podcast is to share thoughts and I feel if, if potential adoptive parents go into this with just knowing the potential sides and being better equipped and being open in conversations, um, because let's be honest, this industry is not going anywhere anytime soon. Um, but the way it's handled and the way individual experiences take place can hopefully get a little better from having conversations like this.  
Lia    00:24:33    Yeah, I think that's something really important to bring up. A large part of why our platform exists is not only to tell our stories, but in hopes to educate folks, right? Because who better to hear it from than the folks who experienced it? As we're talking about in this episode, adoptive parents and families are often centered, and I feel like that's always gonna be a skewed view because you're not the ones who, who went through it. So yeah, it's our hope that, you know, through these episodes, through these conversations, that you're able to walk away with things and have these conversations with folks. I know, I know there are folks out there who are listening, who have thought about adoption, who are considering adoption, who know folks who are considering adoption. And so just really hope that this leaves room for you to think and make space for the nuances. And if nothing else, understand that adoption is.