I recently shared some of my story in the Old Town Crier’s May 2018 issue. You can read it here.
Notebooks in every room. Scraps of paper in the car, in my purse and in pockets. I’m a girl who loves the world of analog notes. It’s as though a thought isn’t fully formed until I’ve written it down, pen to paper, and let it sit for a day or so to gel.
Writers write. It’s what we do. I’ve been writing since, hmmm, first grade? That’s more than 4 decades of practice and I’m still learning.
Notebooks and day planners and the odd scrap of paper have been filled for years with my thoughts and studies and observations about Nature vs. Nurture. I’ve always wanted to know what traits I got from my biological parents and which I received from the family I have known all my life.
My personality is very much like my Dad’s personality. He’s funny, charming and a good conversationalist. He is fair and tends to be even-keeled even if he isn’t terribly patient. We both have turned around in the parking lot of a restaurant when we see tour buses (too noisy! too crowded! and too long a wait for food – especially at a buffet!) We both complain to anyone who will listen about traffic and the lines at toll-booths. My Dad has been a salesman his entire life and I followed in his footsteps. I’ve sold different things but the consultative approach that I learned watching him has stood me in good stead.
We’re also very different. And I think that’s the case with all families. There are similarities and there are differences. The things I mention about our similarities are definitely traits that you learn from proximity to someone. I don’t know that you’re DNA pre-disposes you to hate waiting on line.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that our general dispositions are genetic, and if we, as adoptees, are lucky enough to get placed in a family with a similar disposition we get the golden ticket.
My parents are generally happy people. They like to find the silver lining. They’re realists and don’t gloss over challenges, but at the end of the day, they’re focused on the good and the ways to connect and to love deeply.
What I’m saying is this – you can choose to be a victim in all situations or you can choose to see how you fit into the crapstorm that seems to swirl around you non-stop. If you feel like you keep getting rained on, why not bring an umbrella?
I know, easy for me to say – I have the disposition of someone who sees the glass as half-full. Life has thrown its share of pain and heartache my way, and I’ve had periods of time of darkness, however, I still saw a sliver of light. I think that may be genetic and I think this is why my reunion seems to be going well.
My biological siblings are generally positive, funny and loving people. They are quick to embrace and slow to judge. They are open to new things and to letting someone else in – they are curious and genuine. In essence, they are like me!
In observing adoptees who have had painful, sad, uncomfortable or downright awful reunions, I notice that the general disposition of the biological family is generally negative, close-minded and fearful. Often the adoptee had a painful life and was seeking solace with them only to be rejected again. I’m not a sociologist, but there seems to be a trend related to the general disposition of the biological family and I wonder if that disposition has been genetically passed on to their children, adopted or not?
Every adoptee dreams about their biological family at some point in their life. Even those adoptees who have no desire to search for their families share that they have a vision of what their biological parents might have been like.
When I was in my angst-ridden teen years I fantasized daily that my biological family was like me! I felt certain that they asked questions about church and God and finding a way to impact the world in a positive way. I hoped that they were broad-minded with a good sense of humor. I dreamed that my biological mother would look me in my eyes and just know all the things I was feeling so I wouldn’t have to try to spell it out.
Like I said, it’s a fantasy of an angst-ridden teenager.
As I’ve gotten to know my new-to-me siblings I’ve learned that they are all those things and that the generation before them was much more close-mouthed and secretive. (Obviously, Cathy and I were two big secrets that our biological mother took to her grave!) Yet, MY generation is full of people who are all the things that I dreamed about and that is amazing to me. How wonderful that we all created that space in our lives – together and separately. We run the gamut on religion and we’re all committed to making the world better in our ways. We have big brains that explore new ways of thinking and we all love to learn and expand our world-views.
It’s hard to explain if you’ve never been adopted, but I can feel how we are alike and how we are different in my bones. That familiarity is the gift of nature that I’ve been seeking for a lifetime.
There are so many things I want to write about when it comes to adoption and being an adoptee. There are many things I want to explore more in-depth and many conversations I’d like to have with anyone affected by adoption.
In the adoptee community, there are a number of “sides” and a great deal of “us” versus “them” when it comes to members of the triad. In general, you’ll find a number of groups, founded and administered by adoptees that had a terrible experience in their adoptive homes. Some are more militant in their anti-adoption stance than others, but all have something to share and teach us on the topic.
I’m not always comfortable in these groups because I feel guilty for having such a great life. When I write that out it sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? I’m sure it seems ridiculous to you to read!
Regularly I find opportunities to see how sheltered my life has been. I do in fact live in a bubble of white privilege and I know it. I also live in a cloud of adoptee privilege because my parents adopted and made a family for selfless reasons. I’m sure they wanted to fulfill their dreams of having a family and that’s what prompted them to go searching for me and then my brother. When my sister came along they thought there might be even more children to come. In the end, we were a family of 5 and that suited us all just fine. (Notwithstanding my desire for a ton of brothers and sisters.)
It will kill you if you let it and it’s something we can either accept or not. Most people have something they feel guilty about and when I meet someone who is oblivious to the feeling of guilt I’m wary and a little scared.
Carrying guilt for being a happy adoptee and a white woman in a racially divisive world and country isn’t helping anyone though and I’m working to move my guilt into a space of open listening and deeper questions and reflections on how I can use my status in both these areas to improve the situation for others who don’t have the privileges that I do.
Part of getting over the guilt in the adoption arena has been the process of listening to others before I jump in with my opinion. I believe everyone’s experience deserves exploration. Some people do seem to like to be in their drama and enjoy being victims, however, most do not. They are simply working through their feelings the best way they know how.
Creating a community around AdoptionConversations.com is important to me. In the coming months, I’ll be introducing a podcast, sharing my progress on my book about adoption and hopefully publishing in other venues where we can really get the conversation started. Until then, thank you for being here. I value your input – both privately and in the comments and I’m so glad we’re beginning this conversation together.
“Oh! I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Do you know where your real mom is?”
“Well, you must feel very blessed. You might not be here otherwise.”
What do all those statements have in common?
They are things that people say when they find out I’m adopted. I know. #NOTALL people say these things. Enough people do and have that I have scripts that I could repeat in my sleep in response.
The title of this blog is Adoption Conversations and instead of popping you over the head and saying “BAD HUMAN! Don’t say these things to an adoptee!” I’d rather talk about each of those and how they make me feel. Know that my feelings are just that – feelings. They are not facts or logic and often times they pull up my shadow side that I’m working to uncover in an effort to BE.
If you have ever said these things to an adoptee, let yourself off the hook. Maybe the adoptee you spoke to didn’t even notice – some don’t. Just because I feel a negative charge when these statements come up doesn’t mean that they trigger everyone. It doesn’t mean I think you’re a bad person either.
“Oh! I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
This usually comes up in social situations during small talk. Most often when I’m talking to someone I’ve just met, or know as a friend-of-a-friend. It’s also the most awkward situation to be sharing your deep feelings about the institution of adoption.
When you say this it’s obviously your most innocent and honest response. You say, “I’m sorry,” not because you’re sorry that I was adopted (I hope!) but because you’re like most of us who say I’m sorry all the freaking time. (Probably a post for a different venue – but I am on a mission to stop saying I’m sorry all the time and I wish you would too!)
Like I said, I know you’re not sorry I was adopted, right? You just didn’t know what to say when I threw the little fact of my adoption in when you were commenting how unlike my sister/brother/mother/father I seem.
The fact is (in case you really are sorry that I’m adopted) that you had nothing to do with and you are off the hook! You also don’t need to be sorry for bringing the topic of my adoption into the conversation. I already know I’m adopted. I am cool with it and I’m pretty comfortable talking about it.
Instead of saying “I’m sorry” going forward, you can say, “Oh! I had no idea.” or “Cool! What’s that experience like?”
By the way, thanks for actually listening when I told you I was adopted.
“Do you know where your real mom is?”
This comes out usually when I least expect it. (By now I should know to expect anything when talking about adoption – but there it is.
This is also a question that really rankles adoptive moms I’m sure. Although I’ve not talked about it with my own mom I can’t imagine how it feels to overhear someone asking your adopted child if they know where their real mom is.
Maybe part of the issue is the word choice. REAL mom. What the actual Ef. My real Mom walked the halls with me when I had colic, made sure I ate my vegetables, stayed up late making Halloween costumes and listened to me when I was learning to play the clarinet (sorry Mom and Dad). My real Mom also washed my mouth out with soap when I said a nasty word, fought with me about when I was old enough to wear makeup and had a number of strong opinions that had me slamming my door throughout my teenage years. (Interesting I can’t really remember now what we fought about!)
Indeed then, I know exactly where my real Mom is. Give or take a few miles I’m pretty sure she’s at home with my real Dad, either working in the garden, hanging with my niece or socializing with friends.
On the other hand, if you are wondering if know where the precious person who gave birth to me might be, that’s another story. For more than 52 years I had no real idea where that person was. I’ve recently connected with her family and learned that many times throughout our lives we may have crossed paths. Sadly, I also learned that I will never get to meet her as she passed away 17 years before I found the family.
Instead of using the word, real in this question to an adoptee, feel free to use any of these other terms: first mother; birth mother; biological mother.
“Well, you must feel very blessed. You might not be here otherwise.”
I don’t even know where to begin. It’s hard to put a conversation spin on this one! First and foremost because if I weren’t here….I wouldn’t be here! I wouldn’t be listening to you right now. I wouldn’t have made a mark in the world in the way that I get to make a mark t his time around, and, this may come as a surprise to you, I don’t think I’d miss it.
You can’t miss something you have no experience of – if I hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t have the consciousness to know what it meant to be born, right?
I’m not blessed because I was adopted. I am blessed because I’m me.
You also have no idea how horrific the adoption experience can be for some adoptees. There are many adoptive parents (yeah, #notall) who adopt children so they can feed their egos and feel like heroes. There are also adoptive parents who are abusive, narcissistic and blatantly horrific humans. When children are adopted into those circumstances they feel anything but blessed and as adults have trauma and scarring to work through than the average adoptee who has loving and selfless adoptive parents.
Instead of telling an adoptee that they must feel blessed because they might not be here otherwise, I advise you to instead ask them about their adoption experience and let them lead the conversation from there if you’re really interested.
There are obviously other things that can trigger an adoptee or any member of the adoption triad – I’d love to hear yours – and your suggested alternatives! Feel free to leave them in the comments.
My biological mother named me when I was born. The name she gave me was her own and the middle name, that of an Aunt. I was her first born.
One of my half-sisters has her mother’s name as her middle name. I refer to my biological mother as just that – she is the precious person who gave birth to me and I share her genes. She didn’t, however, “mother” me and I’m sensitive to the weight we give to words (and names and labels). She did however, give birth to and raise 4 others. For them, she was their mother.
When I was adopted my name was changed.
I remember a time where I saw my friend’s birth certificate – with it’s seal from the State of New York and her tiny little footprint on it. Until then I didn’t know that a birth certificate had things like time of birth and weight and length of the baby on it. All I knew was that my birth certificate was green and boring and dated a year and a month after I was born.
This is just one more way adoptees are not like the rest of the population.
It made me feel different and I asked my parents why my birth certificate had a different date than my birthday and why it didn’t have my length or weight or footprint. I know they explained to me that adopted babies have a different birth certificate because of the legal process involved.
A long time passed before I started thinking about how my name and my existence were actually part of a legal contract. I started wondering if my biological mother had given me a name or had just handed me over for the new parents to name.
I was 35 years old when I learned that my biological mother had named me. I was perplexed as I tried on the name she’d given me. I loved the first name which was also her name and I was not so thrilled with the middle name. Interestingly I’ve had many friends and complex relationships with people who had the name I was given.
As an amateur student of numerology I wondered how the energy of my birth name differed from my given name. Speaking with numerologists they all agreed that the name I have now, the one on my legal birth certificate is the name of the energy I’m here to work with . To their way of thinking, there are no mistakes and even if it meant jostling me around a bit, I ended up where I was meant to with the name I was here to embody.
For those of you who are numerologists, my name calculates to 1. The name I was born with, using my biological mother’s maiden name calculates to a 3, and using my biological father’s surname calculates to a 7. My life path number doesn’t change, and that is a 6.
Names are important and what we call things and people resonates an energy. It’s important to spell and pronounce names correctly. It’s also important to recognize the names of our ancestors, even if we don’t know them.
While I have no intention of changing my name to my birth name, I know many adoptees who have and I applaud them. For me changing how I spelled my nickname in High School was huge – and don’t get me started on the headache that comes from changing your surname when you marry and unmarry!
Still, it’s intriguing to wonder about the energy in those other names and how that would have (or not) changed my life.