BIO: I am a thirty-something adult adoptee, the product of a closed, private, domestic infant adoption. I have four “real” parents, each with distinctly different roles and influences on my life. I’ve been happily reunited for almost a decade and a half. My husband has patiently stood by me through search, reunion, and the birth of two amazing children. My hobbies include addictions to caffeine and genealogy, and supporting adoptee access to original birth records.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ADOPTED?
Fall is a time when the past often comes to my mind. My maternal grandmother and grandfather’s birthdays are just days apart, with the anniversary of my mother’s death sandwiched in between. A few more weeks and the calendar will bring the anniversaries of the deaths of my paternal grandparents, followed soon after by my birthday.
I was given up for adoption at birth. I never expected, at the beginning, that my search would end at a grave – my natural mom was young when she had me, and I was young when I searched. The chance that I’d find a grave should have been almost nil. Two years into searching, I’d been informed that she had died long ago, but with no proof provided I’d held out hope for another four years that the claim was incorrect or a lie. Unfortunately this particular piece of information turned out to be true.
It was heartbreaking and difficult – and still is, fifteen years down the road – to miss out not only on knowing my natural mom as I grew up, but to then find that I would never know her in this lifetime. It’s a loss built upon a loss, and one which many non-adoptees don’t understand, since I’m mourning the loss of someone I have no memory of.
I’m mourning both a person and a possibility.
But grieving the loss of my natural mother almost seems normal compared to the mourning of extended family relationships that seems to have developed over the years. When I first reunited, my natural parents were nearly my sole focus. It was impossible to tear my attention away from the tragedy of my mom’s death or the welcoming relationship with my dad. As time has passed, other losses have begun to rear their heads and although they may not be as cutting, they are losses nonetheless and demand some measure of processing and grief.
My mom’s father died when she was just a girl, so even if I had been kept I would never have known him. With him, I grieve the experience of growing up hearing memories and stories, and of knowing firsthand how his loss affected my mom.
My dad’s father passed away when I was in my teens, right around the time my grandfather that I grew up with died, and ironically, of the same cause. This loss is poignant for me in a different way, because I could have known him. In a different situation, I could have had the opportunity to meet and talk with him, but I never will. I cherish the childhood memories I have of the loving grandfather I grew up with, and grieve the opportunity to have had memories with this other grandfather.
I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to meet both of my natural grandmothers before they passed away. They were both strong, loving and welcoming women. With them, I grieve their passing, and I regret that my insecure and sometimes clumsy handling of reunion resulted in more distance from them than I would have liked. Oftentimes I was reluctant to make a phone call or send a note because – through NO fault of theirs – I felt unsure of my place. No matter how welcomed I was, and honest to God I could not in my wildest dreams have asked for a more welcoming birth family, there was always that fear in the background that my existence was something to be ashamed of and that I shouldn’t be bothering people. When I was in the very beginning stages of reunion, I’d been told by someone important to me that “people make many mistakes and do not want to be confronted with them” and that was a hard comment to let go of. It still is.
The deaths of my grandmothers had one positive impact, and that was to make me realize that I’d regret not reaching out more while I still had the chance. And in recent years I have. I’m still not bold or 100% comfortable, but I have met many extended family members and developed some treasured relationships. Even there, though, is some loss. I’m never quite sure if I should just use a first name to address them, or if it’s okay to say “Aunt/Uncle So-and-so”. I don’t know what they expect, and fifteen years into reunion it seems awkward to ask. Every time a doubt creeps into my mind about whether it’s okay to refer to someone as a sibling or a cousin, or to say “dad” instead of his name, I’m reminded that in an alternate reality I wouldn’t have had to think twice about it.
There’s other losses to grieve too. Becoming more open about my adoption and related thoughts brings the possibility of alienating friends and family who have adopted or considered adopting, and that scares and saddens me. And I deeply grieve the fullness of adoptive relationships stifled by fears and insecurities, relationships I value and truly wish could be open and honest, because I love these people and I know they love me. And the most frustrating part is that I so often think about the fact that it didn’t have to be this way. None of it had to be this way. If closed adoption, fear, and “the way things are done” hadn’t stood in the way, there were so many other paths that we could have all travelled down. And it’s not that it makes me an unhappy person – I have a blessed life and I’m optimistic and purposeful about my future. But like dealing with a chronic disease, those losses will always be with me and are something I need to take into account as I live my life. Acknowledging, processing, and letting myself experience my grief isn’t wallowing or self-pity; it’s allowing myself to explore emotions that were unwelcome before, it’s honoring and remembering people important to me, it’s sharing things instead of bottling them up because I’ve learned that I deserve to be the fullest, healthiest, most complete version of me that I want to be. My grief over my losses does not “compete with” or degrade my other valued relationships, and if someone chooses to believe that it does, their choice is outside my control.
So for me, the answer to “how does it feel to be adopted” is that sometimes it feels like loss. It feels like grieving over, and over, and over again, at different events and milestones and realizations, in different ways as the years go by. And that is okay.
“Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.
So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.”
Tim Lawrence, Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason, 20 Oct 2015
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“No Name; Baby To Be Adopted”
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