Holt’s adult adoptee community outreach coordinator, Carmen Hinckley, summarizes Angela Tucker’s “You Should Be Grateful: Stories of Race, Identity, and Transracial Adoption.”
“We can love more than one set of parents. Relationships with our birth parents, foster parents, and our adoptive parents are not mutually exclusive.”
These are the first lines of Angela Tucker’s “adoptee manifesto,” which is in the introduction to her new book, “You Should Be Grateful: Stories of Race, Identity, and Transracial Adoption,” which was published in April 2023. Angela is a transracial adoptee who serves the community through speaking engagements and workshops, the Adoptee Mentoring Society (a nonprofit she founded) and now her book.
“You Should Be Grateful” explores many of the concepts and topics that adoptees have shared with Angela over the years. It also discusses stories and discoveries from her own life.
Part 1: Discovering
After her adoptee manifesto, Angela shares about how she came to be part of her adoptive family. She also shares their openness to talking about adoption and details the beginning of her search for her birth family. She also gives a glimpse into her mentoring of young adoptees and the insightful, thoughtful comments they provide about their adoptions. Finally, she provides information about and the history of adoption.
One concept in particular that she discusses is the meaning of something called the “ghost kingdom”:
“Betty Jean Lifton is an adoptee and a psychologist who coined the term ‘Ghost Kingdom.’ She defined it as the hypothetical world adoptees enter when imagining their birth relatives. Since nothing is real in this make-believe realm, adoptees can meander through all kinds of fantastical imaginings of what their birth family is like.”
Tucker goes on to explain that imaginings about an adoptee’s ghost kingdom can be an essential aspect of processing and identity development.
An adoptee’s path to discovering their roots can be filled with uncertainty. They have many questions, excitements and hopes as they find that some answers come more easily than others. This journey, and its many twists and turns along the way, can become easier by having a supportive network of family and friends.
Part 2: Experiencing
Next, Angela takes readers on the experience of coming face to face with both her birth parents when she returned to Chattanooga to meet them for the first time since her birth. She also shares about the impact of being surrounded by so many locals who know her birth father, Sandy, and immediately notice their resemblance.
Angela discusses the moment that she, her husband and her parents see her birth father. Introducing herself, she notices the similarities between them.
“But after a long silence, I realized he was looking at me as carefully as I was looking at him. Shaking his head and releasing a slight chuckle he finally said, ‘It’s like I’m looking in the mirror.’”
“We can love more than one set of parents. Relationships with our birth parents, foster parents, and our adoptive parents are not mutually exclusive.”Angela Tucker
When she sees her birth mother, Deborah, for the first time, the experience is much different and more upsetting. Deborah denies that she could be Angela’s birth mother.
“’No,’ she said without skipping a beat in a hard-edged and scratchy voice. With one hand on her hand and the other holding a cigarette, shoulders slumped and her head bowed down, she said, ‘I ain’t have no children. I’m sorry, but I ain’t the person you’re looking for.’”
Angela’s talent for depicting each moment shows the spectrum of emotions that adoptees can experience, not only leading up to a possible reunion, but in the very moment of the reunion.
Angela’s story of meeting her birth parents serves as an extraordinary example of searching for answers. She demonstrates the unknown and fear that can accompany this journey, and the possibilities that await. She talks about her first interactions with both birth parents. This topic touches upon many adoptees’ desire to know their origins. And, in discussions with her birth mother, Deborah, she both explores and questions her drive to know her origins.
“Hearing Deborah speak made me question my steadfast assertion that I deserved to know my truth at all costs. My precarious position rested on two conflicting principles that remained inflexible my entire life. One is the fact that I deserve to know my own truth about my life. The other is that my birth mother deserves her privacy… But I couldn’t help but wonder, as Deborah trailed off into a muttering soliloquy, if knowing my truth was more important than allowing my birth mother her privacy.”
Part 3: Reckoning
In the last section of her book, Angela shares experiences from mentoring adoptee youth — listening to them discuss relationships with their birth parents. Many of these young adoptees were part of an open adoption. This allowed them some level of contact with their birth parents during their growing up years.
The topic of the “sondersphere” is addressed in chapter 14. Angela created this word. It is based upon the term “sonder” by John Keonig in his book “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.” Keonig describes “sonder” as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness – an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed.”
She references this term and coins her own, “sondersphere,” to discuss the network of people that exists within an adoptee’s life. This can include birth parents, adoptive parents, foster parents and anyone else. They can build relationships with each other and embrace the complexities.
In this universe Angela describes, she says, “A birth parent is not judged by their worst moment; nor is an adoptive parent expected to be a perfect parent. The adoptee isn’t expected to be grateful for one or the other. In the sondersphere, we don’t allow another to be just an extra in the movie of our lives.”
“You Should Be Grateful” serves as an important reference and read for the entire adoption community. Although the adoptee voice does appear in the print and the media, we need to hear these stories more often. Angela’s book shines a light on the transracial adoptee experience and will serve as a support and guide for its readers.
Did you know Holt provides support to all adoptees?
Every adoptee has a unique and complex life experience. Holt strives to support all adoptees, regardless of their placing agency, by providing help with birth search, citizenship and more.