November is National Adoption Awareness Month. This year #flipthescript is turning attention to the voice of the adult adoptee..
Throughout my life sharing my feelings about being adopted have often been lessons in how it feels not to be heard. How it feels to be dismissed. How it feels to be told how to feel.
The conversations often went something like these:
Conversation at a 5th grade slumber party
Friend: You’re adopted? Do you have any idea who your real mother is?
10 year old me: My parents said she was probably a teenager.
10-year-old friend: She could be famous. What if she gave you away because of her acting career? Would you go live with her if she is rich? I totally would. Or wait. What is she is one of those homeless people we saw on that field trip to Boston? The ones with the shopping carts? I mean, that is totally possible, right?
10 year old me: If you had to kiss David Cassidy or Donny Osmond, who would you pick?
Conversation in high school
Teenage me: I hate not knowing. Seriously, who was she? What do you think the story was? Were they high school sweethearts? Did it break them up? Could they still be together? Was it awful for her? Does she think about me?
Teenage Friend: Yeah. That sucks. I would hate to be adopted. Are you going to homecoming this weekend?
Teenage me: Yeah, but I have no idea what to wear.
This did not improve much as I got older. People tended to gloss over my feelings and the subject quickly got changed.
Even when asked about being adopted, I was often shut down.
Conversation with a friend at age 20
Friend: Do you ever think about searching for your birth parents?
20 year old me: Yeah. I really have stuff I want to know. Who were they? What was their story? Who do I look like? I don’t know anything. I’m not even allowed have my real birth certificate!
Friend: But you have a great family. You’re so lucky. Anyone can make a baby but it takes someone special to be a mom or a dad. Your parents are your real parents! (This is told to me with deep sincerity and uncomfortable eye contact. This friend, like so many before and after her, really feels like she is delivering a truth I hadn’t thought of.)
For the record: I already knew I had a great family. I never needed a reminder who my family was. I was a happy, well adjusted kid. I could never imagine being a part of another family. My struggle had nothing to do with my love for my family or their love for me. My struggle was in not knowing my own story. The story of my life did not begin when I was adopted, but like everyone else, my story began before I was even born. I was born to someone who was unable or unwilling to raise me. Shouldn’t I be allowed to know why this was so? Didn’t I have the right to the real unedited truth? Was I supposed to simply accept the two paragraphs provided to my parents by the adoption agency? Two paragraphs that were sanitized, simplified, and (I later learned) falsified? I was supposed to be content with that?
I didn’t have a primal need for my birthmother. I now know and love my birthmother. She is a unique and separate person from my mom and her role in my life is unique and separate as well. I wanted to hear her story. I wanted to know her. I did not want to be hers. When it comes to a primal, maternal connection, the one I feel, and have always felt, is for the mother who raised me. In fact, nearly eight years after her death, I still have what feels like a primal longing for her every time I am sad, hurt or sick.
I grew up secure in my parents love, secure in my place in my family, secure in myself. I wanted something that no amount of their love could give me. I wanted my history. When I decided to search for it, I had the support of the people closest to me. But I was made to feel badly about it by others. I was told I was lucky for the family I had. I was told I should be grateful. I was told that it shouldn’t matter. I was told to let it go. I was warned to be careful what I wished for. I was told I might live to regret it. I was told I might be rejected. I was told I might ruin my birthmother’s life. I was asked how my parents felt. I was never asked how I felt.
I felt unheard. I proceeded with my search with a confidence that I deserved to know, but also with vague feelings of guilt and failure. My search made me feel fragile in a way that I never had before.
Three decades have passed since I began meeting members of my birth family. It has enriched and complicated my life in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. I got my story. My truth. And finally, I can say with complete confidence and no guilt, I deserved to know.