BIO: I’m an artist and writer who makes ends meet by translating. This is the first time I’ve ‘gone public’ with my adoptee experiences – and it’s soooo liberating! If I can pluck up the courage, I’d like to write a non-fiction project on adoption and adoptee experiences. I’m lucky to have a fantastic husband and sons who aren’t freaked out by my me-ness and stick by me always.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ADOPTED?
This is so hard to write.
I’ve made so many attempts but none of them rang true. They sounded too melodramatic or victim-y and I don’t want to be a victim or come across as angry and full of rage. I am those things but I’m more than that. I’m someone who’s trying to build a life, inventing herself bit by bit, day by day.
Making it up as I go along.
I was born in a mother and baby home in London in the sixties. When I was four weeks old, my birth mother left the country, and left me behind. Two weeks later, I was adopted. My adoptive parents brought me up in the north of England.
I always knew I was adopted, which never bothered me – in fact, I think it made me feel special. My adoptive sister, three years younger, always said that she came out of mummy’s tummy. I knew that I hadn’t, and somehow that was a relief.
My sister and I didn’t have what could remotely be described as a happy childhood. Our adoptive mother was tyrannical, emotionally abusive and loveless – she was probably what the psychology textbooks would these days describe as a narcissistic personality. She dominated our adoptive father, too. They were unable to have children – she couldn’t conceive. They waited eight years to adopt, and went through countless screenings and rounds of interviews intended to make sure they’d be good parents. I suppose, looking back, that their expectations were high – they thought of me and my sister as clay they could mould.
They didn’t want us to grow into whoever we were meant to be.
We weren’t allowed to be true ourselves.
They didn’t want us for who we were.
I grew up feeling very, very anxious. I was aware when I was very young of tensions in our family. I think I even knew, very dimly, that our adoptive parents felt that my adoptive sister and I were disappointments, each in our very different ways.
I was afraid of my mother.
Our home life worsened as we grew older. I won’t get into specifics, there’s no point. My adoptive sister and I weren’t close when we were kids. I loved reading and hid in my room with my books. She escaped by spending time with her friends. When I was nine, I counted the years until I’d be old enough to leave home, and panicked – how would I survive?
I wanted to die.
I felt I was living the wrong life, in the wrong place, with the wrong people. I wanted a different life, but didn’t know what that life would be like, or how to get it. I felt helpless. Excluded. Crazy. I did a lot of negative stuff, mostly to myself. Life was bleak. I didn’t see a positive way out.
Life with my adoptive mother became impossible. One day, I found myself alone in the kitchen with her. We were screaming at each other. There was a bread knife in my hand. After that, I didn’t trust myself around her, and left home. I was seventeen.
For years, I used my anger and frustration and rage as fuel. It helped me survive, and gave me the strength not to give in to the blackness that had been dogging me all of my life. I had my first son, raised him alone until he was five, then remarried and had my second boy. The blackness has never been far away. I have to fight hard to keep it from sucking me down. But, over the years, the battle got easier. When my youngest son was born, I started working from home and that was good – I had my family and our little apartment.
I had my world.
It was at this point, as my life became more stable and structured, that I decided to find my birth parents. I’d always known their names – they were on forms I had from the adoption agency. Of course, as a child I’d always wondered about who they were, and fantasised about how my life could have been if I’d stayed with my biological family, but back then, there was so much red tape that searching for them was too difficult. But times changed and by the mid-nineties, finding people had become a lot simpler. The search took some time (neither of my birth parents are British nationals), but I found them both, with the help of a family finder, and the Salvation Army. The search was filled with joy and excitement and trepidation. In order to get hold of my adoption records I’d had to see a therapist, and we’d talked about finding my parents.
But nothing prepared me for what was to come.
I won’t go into details because I can’t – it’s too confrontational and I don’t think I’ve come to terms with what happened yet. Finding my birth parents taught me so much. It made me realise that much of the self-sabotage and self-loathing – what I call ‘the blackness’ – wasn’t something that slowly evolved as I grew up. It had been a part of me from the beginning – from birth – maybe even before.
My adoptive mother always said I was a ‘good’ baby. I never cried. Now, I know that I didn’t cry because I knew there was no point in crying: no one would hear or if they did, they wouldn’t come. I discovered that my birth mother could have kept me – an old boyfriend was still in love with her and wanted to marry her and raise me as his own. But that wasn’t what she chose. I have a photograph somewhere of my birth mother holding me. I’m probably three or four weeks old, and I’m staring into her face while she holds me, at arm’s length, as though I’m something alien and vaguely distasteful. What struck me most is my expression – I look as though I’m pleading with her not to leave me.
When I did finally meet my birth mother, there wasn’t much of a happy reunion. Though she may not have been aware of it, I think my mother agreed to be in touch with me in the hope that I’d help her re-establish contact with my father. Which is, in fact, what she asked me to do. My mother didn’t seem to connect with me, the person, the woman. I felt that I didn’t really exist to her except, perhaps, as a means to an end – seeing my father.
I think now that the blackness I carry about with me comes from my mother, or partly at least. It was her gift. She shared a piece of her own shadow with me. Sitting next to her the first time, I was overwhelmed by a feeling, welling up deep inside – a nausea, almost verging on a kind of horror, that I’d once been inside that woman’s body. And this is the point – when I think about her – that things get really, really bad for me, and I have to shut those thoughts away.
So far, I have managed to survive. And I’ve done more than survive – I’ve had many times when I’ve felt really and truly alive. But many times when I felt I was existing and not much else.
My adoptive parents died recently. Now that they’re gone, things have changed. I’ve changed – not hugely, but I feel I’m able to define my boundaries better. Part of that means deciding I am a person with no parents. I haven’t seen my birth parents for years and don’t intend to for the foreseeable future. Growing up, I craved a sense of belonging.
I wanted love.
But I can’t find those things in other people. I am who I am and I need to accept that – to accept that I am enough.
I still don’t understand life or my role in it. I have no faith in the world. I feel as though a vile and cruel joke has been played on me. But I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want adoption and everything that goes with it, to define my life.
Through forums and sites, I’ve come to realise that I probably have C-PTSD. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Is it a relief because I’ve found a ‘diagnosis’? Or simply another terrible burden or way to recast myself as a victim? Every time I dig into stuff relating to adoption, I unearth yet another ‘surprise’.
What else is hiding?
I try to keep digging, keep pushing forward. Maybe one day I’ll drag the blackness out into the light and it watch it burn to nothing in the sun. But I don’t think so. I know that I’ve come a long way. But the blackness is still here, probably for good. I try to accept it. It’s real, it won’t go away. I’ve managed to get this far. I’ve survived. And every day, I’m learning to survive better.
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