On Adoption and Being an Adoptee (with Margot Starbuck)

I’m so pleased today to be introducing you all to my friend, Margot Starbuck.  (That’s her on the left, perky and genuine).  Margot is an author of several books (including most recently “Permission Granted” which releases on March 1 (haven’t read it yet, but will soon!)).  She is a contributor at Red Letter Christians, justice advocate, servant to many, a fellow Westmont Warrior, and she also happens to be an adoptee who has adopted.

I know many of you reading are adoptive parents and/or orphan care advocates. You have many deep-seeded questions and feelings about adoption.  Margot wrote a fantastic, exuberant, award-winning memoir about her adoption called The Girl in the Orange Dress.  Since she was so open with her story and because it impacted me so much, I wanted to interview her here. 

Margot, you are an author, wife, ordained minister and social justice advocate.  But you are also an adoptee who has adopted.  Can you tell me a little bit about your own adoption story?  

After I was born, I spent six days in the hospital with my birth mother.  Then, I was with a foster family for two weeks before my mom, dad, and brother picked me up at the adoption agency.  The name of the agency–which feels like something from a really bad movie–was called “Home for Little Wanderers.”  Yikes!  I was adopted into a family with a brother who was five-and-a-half years older than me.

Growing up was a bit bumpy, as my home was fraught with alcoholism, domestic violence and serial divorces.  I’ve written a short entry for a book for teen adoptees–Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to Be?–that discusses how much this stunk.  As an adoptee, I think I was particularly susceptible to believing that I wasn’t worth sticking around for, and the divorces (three, before I graduated from high school) didn’t help.

What do you think your parents did right in terms of your adoption story and your identity as a child who was adopted?  Did you feel loved?  Did you feel a part of your family?  What do you think they could have or should have done differently?

I remember hearing that I was special and that I had been chosen.  Though it may have been said only a few times–maybe once?–it stuck!  I’ve always thought that was a gift.  I think the fact that I never remember NOT knowing I was adopted is a tribute to my parents.  I think that’s more the case today, but in the past there was often the Big Reveal.  If there’s nothing shameful about it, why not talk about it?

I feel like there were a lot of people who loved me.  For years, however, I wasn’t aware I was harboring a deep suspicion I wasn’t worth loving.  It was as if my conscious mind believed I was loved, but there was a part of me that wasn’t quite convinced.  I really “matched” my family visually.  Even in grad school, when people would see my picture beside my brother’s in a directory, they’d say, “Oh, of course you’re brother and sister!”  I think that “matching” probably went a long way in feeling a part of my family, since there were no indicators to others that I was anything other than home-grown.

One thing I wish my parents had done was to make a wee bit more room for discussions about my birth parents.  We just never mentioned them.  When parents toss out the occasional–“Thinking about your birth parents at all today?”–on birthdays, or Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day, we give our children permission to think, feel, explore.

In your memoir, The Girl in the Orange Dress, you share how you started wrestling with your own adoption story as a college student.  What triggered some of those questions?

As a senior in college, my roommate, who was single, became pregnant.  While I’d always been told that my birth parents had loved me so much that they’d given me up for adoption, suddenly I was looking at someone who loved her child and did not relinquish him.  That really rocked my world.  It was the first little crack in the armor I’d built around my heart for protection.  When sweet baby Isaiah was born, 500 more cracks!  Though my curiosity may have peaked when I had kids of my own, I do blame Isaiah for my undoing. (You need to hear that the tone of my voice is VERY grateful to him for this.  Because, like the Velveteen Rabbit, I ended up becoming more real.)

At one point you searched for your birth parents, and I know that was a journey for you.  Can you describe how you came to the decision of trying to find them, and how that was for your relationship with your adoptive family?  Were your parents supportive?  What did it mean for you to find your birth parents?  

I’d not ever been real itchy to find my birth parents, but I suspect that’s because I was so afraid of rejection.  After Isaiah was born, though, I submitted my name and info to a registry and, three weeks later, was reunited with my birth mother!  Though my adoptive parents had always said they’d support me if I ever wanted to search, I still think it was hard on them.  They had no way of knowing that our relationship wouldn’t change, and that I’d actually become more grateful to them for all they’d invested in me.

My birth mother was thrilled to know me and my birth father was … the opposite of thrilled.  At the time, I couldn’t admit how much that stung.

Today I have a great relationship with my birth mom.  I have to give her all the credit for that.  She had never been pushy or demanding.  Just gently loving.  She visited my family a few months ago and we had a great time.

How has your adoption affected your walk with Father God?  

For years I thought I wasn’t LIKE these other people who have rough relationships with God after coming from difficult family circumstances.  In my memoir, The Girl in the Orange Dress, I describe how I had to finally be honest about that.  The truth was, in my deep places I did suspect that God was like the father who left me, the one who drank, the one who hurt my mom.  When we finally got down to that real place, God graciously healed my heart.  I’d say that friends, prayer, therapy and medication were all pieces of that puzzle.

What would be your advice to adoptive parents, as an adoptive mother yourself but also as someone who was adopted, for how to walk with your child through a period of questioning or wrestling with his or her adoption?  

Every single child processes his or her adoption differently.  I’d encourage parents to be brave enough to make those spaces where children feel free to wonder and be angry and ask questions and feel sad and dream about who their birth parents were or are.

This said, I think that parents make the space but it is the child, then, who takes the lead.  When my son first came home from India, I really overdid it by getting way too excited when we’d see Indian people at the mall.  The way a child psychologist explained it to me was that he could see I had a lot of energy about it, but he didn’t know why.  That could be scary!  Since then, I’ve tried to chill a bit.

I’d want every adopted child to hear that whatever they feel–whether it’s sadness or anger or joy or absolutely nothing–is perfectly acceptable.

You just wrote a new book called Permission Granted.  Can you tell me a little bit about it?  

Asking about what I’ve just written is like … my love language!

Like so many Christians, I’d feel heartbroken when I’d see Christians in the media being hateful to those they’d identified as “Special Sinners.”  (Imagine who you will).  It seemed to me as though Christians have a lot more anxiety about engaging with the notoriously sinful than Jesus did!  He just didn’t have all the baggage we have, as we worry about whether it will appear as though we’re condoning sin by treating folks with respect and dignity.  The fact is, Jesus DID appear to be condoning sin!  It’s what infuriated the Religious.

The big idea of Permission Granted is to extend to Christians the permission to engage with folks we identify as “Sinners” the same way Jesus did.  I think it’s really good news.


Margot is a communicator who is itchy to live out the kingdom Jesus ushered in.  She’s planted in Durham, North Carolina with her husband Peter, their three children, and a faith community she cherishes.

To keep in touch with Margot, you can follow her on Facebook.  Or visit her website: www.MargotStarbuck.com.  

Thank you Margot, for sharing your story!  {HUG}

1 comment

  1. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself here, Margot.
    I am in the middle of an adoption right now, and I need all the wisdom I can get. This certainly confirmed some things I already believed.

    I’ll be checking out your books! Thanks!

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