emotions, My story

I Never Lost it to Begin With

Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
Glinda: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.
Dorothy: I have?
Scarecrow: Then why didn’t you tell her before?
Glinda: She wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
Scarecrow: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I—I think that it, that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em — and it’s that — if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?
Glinda: That’s all it is!

~ adapted from Frank L. Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Fascinating! My entire story is summed up right here. I’ve had the answer all along!

I’ve spent most of my life searching for my biological family. I wanted to find people that looked like me and I wanted access to my medical records. I needed to feel connected to people who were, literally, my flesh and blood. For me, it was a compulsion, even when I wasn’t actively searching, I’d still have flashes of wanting needing to be in connection with genetic relatives.

The process of searching took me much deeper. I learned things about myself that I might otherwise never know. I learned to face things that didn’t make me proud of myself and I learned how to face them and grow and learn from them.

For instance, I have always had a low tolerance for people I deemed “whiners.” This, I’m sorry to say, included many people I first encountered in Adoptee and Adoption groups on the internet.  I’d last a few days in a group where members were opening their hearts and baring their souls to seek solace from their adoption pain and I’d say to myself, “What a bunch of whiners. Pull yourselves up and move on with your lives!” Then I’d leave the group and tell my friends how annoying these groups were.

As I sat down to write my book I remembered those groups and how they made me feel and I wondered if maybe I had some of those feelings buried deep within. I wasn’t looking for pity and I wasn’t looking to be “fixed,” but maybe, just maybe there was a part of me that hadn’t healed because I hadn’t explored the feelings.

I rejoined groups and instead of judging, I decided to listen. Instead of trying to “fix” the people in the groups by telling them to “buck up and move on” I sat with the emotion that their words brought up for me. As time went on I recognized the voices as familiar but hidden.

While I’d done a great job of shoving my feelings into far recesses so I wouldn’t have to deal with them, I hadn’t actually healed anything. This wasn’t “self-fulfilling prophecy” or me “sinking” to a low level. This was me moving out of my intellectual space and into an emotional place. I decided to invite my inner 5-year-old to come out to play and I’d run the thoughts and stories of other adoptees through her world-view.

It wasn’t long until I started to feel better. I wasn’t just acting as if I were better and ignoring the weight I’d been carrying around literally and figuratively, I was beginning to feel better and lighter. Instead of feeling annoyed or burdened by the stories of my fellow adoptees, I began to feel a kinship. No, I’m not interested in wallowing and blaming, but I am interested in owning the stories that are mine. In every group, you find people who like drama for the sake of drama and I’ve learned to steer clear of those people wherever they are.

One thing I’ve recognized is that the adoptees who are genuinely healing and helping others are those who listen to the uncomfortable stories and face the ones they have in their baggage too. It wasn’t enough for me to carry that bag around with me, it was necessary to look inside and find out who and what was in there. That’s how I found out that I already had the keys to going home to myself. Just like Dorothy, I had my heart’s desire with me all along.

emotions, My story

The Kid Question

“Do you have kids?”

It’s a natural question to ask a woman of my age. It used to bug me. I’d think, “You wouldn’t ask me if I have sex would you?!” Then I realized that people with kids generally want you to ask that question because they want to talk about their kids! What I saw as invasive was really just a way for new people to try to bond with me.

I don’t have kids of my own. I’m proud to have a complicated and sometimes strained relationship with three young adults who are my husband’s offspring. However, having my own kids wasn’t really on my radar.

I’m sure as a little girl I was conditioned to see myself married and mothering, but I don’t remember loving the idea of playing with baby dolls or playing house. On the other hand, I loved playing with Barbie Dolls and setting her up on dates with Ken and GI Joe. Dressing her up for work and a night on the town was all kinds of fun!

When the long-awaited season premiere of This Is US began with Randall trying to convince his wife that they should adopt a child I was intrigued. He was motivated by a number of things, primarily his own adoption. The following day there was much discussion between other adult adoptees on whether or not we had desired to adopt because of our own situation. More than half of the adult adoptees indicated that they had not ever wanted to adopt. Those that did want to adopt children (or had) were strongly in the camp of those who had a positive adoptee experience themselves.

Of course, this got me thinking. Why didn’t I want to adopt? Why had I not had kids of my own?

Many adoptees say, “I desperately wanted someone who was a part of me, biologically” and I can relate to that. However, during my childbearing years, I had no idea what exactly it would mean to have someone who was biologically related to me. Would I be passing on genes that were detrimental? Would I be unleashing into the world a child who would turn into an adult with severe anger and rage issues? Did I turn out relatively well-adjusted simply because I had been adopted? What if my genes included serial killers, pedophiles or addicts? I knew that as much as I would love a child, I wouldn’t be able to “fix” them if they were born with cells imprinted with these issues. More to the point, I wouldn’t know what to do if these types of things happened – because I hadn’t lived with it and had no experience of these illnesses and issues in my own family.

Not knowing my medical history was hard enough, I didn’t want to go through all those appointments with my child, explaining that I had no idea what his or her medical heritage brought to the table.

That’s one of the reasons I didn’t have children.

Another reason was the fact that neither of my first two husbands impressed me as particularly good “father” material. Remember I told you about my ability to pick poor partners! These were nice enough men, but they weren’t men that I could see co-parenting a little human being alongside. I had high standards for my imaginary children, and since I didn’t know what my DNA  brought to the table I needed to know that they were bringing some serious great skills and genes to the potential of parenting. Their stories are their own, but there were reasons I wasn’t comfortable with them as fathers.

Parenting is hard-ass work. I watched my own parents do it and I know it wasn’t easy. They were in it for the long haul though and that seemed daunting to me. As my friends began having children instead of feeling like I was missing out, I starting feeling like I missed a bullet.  That’s a definite sign that maybe you’re not cut out to have kids,  I think.

I was also honestly worried that I might decide I didn’t want the child after I had him or her. All the stories, movies and TV shows in the world couldn’t convince me that as soon as I had a child I’d fall madly in love and be smitten. What if I turned out to be the mother who didn’t want her child? What would I do then? In my heart, I knew I didn’t want to take that chance. After all this musing I realized I was ambivalent at best and that was no reason to bring a human into the world.

Why did I have that lingering fear? Because the fact of the matter was – I was given away. Sure, the circumstances and the times were different, but I was a baby who wasn’t kept by her mother. I had no basis to believe that it was for any reason other than it seemed like too much work to keep me.

By the way, this isn’t a pity party here. I’m not mourning the loss of unborn children and blaming it on my adoptee status. I just want you to know why I don’t have kids.

emotions, My story, Reunions

Missing out

Excited and nervous and then a wrong turn and I ended up at a gas station on the outskirts of Baltimore. I looked at the time on my phone and took a breath. I still had a better than average chance of being on time. Just to be safe though I made a call, “You’re not begging off on me are you?” he asked playfully. I assured him I was definitely on my way but that I missed the turn and was now in Baltimore. “Great. I can’t wait to see you. Drive safely.”

The gas station guy gave me excellent directions and I was on my way to Renaissance Faire with time to spare.

Those moments are the beginning of the love affair of my life. Within the hour I met the man who is now my husband. I was 42 years old and felt in my heart and gut that this relationship would be different because I was different.

Years of picking poor partners had me doubting myself. I’d had enough therapy and spiritual healing to recognize the pattern I’d put in place from an early age was a reflection of my adoptee M.O. I desperately wanted to be connected and to be loved, but I carried a secret, like a little pebble in my shoe, that said I was inherently flawed and would eventually get my heart broken.

Let me be clear. This is MY stuff. My parents are amazing and never made me feel that I wouldn’t be safe and secure for my lifetime. My extended family never treated me like I wasn’t one of them, so much so that sometimes I wanted to tap them on the shoulder and whisper, “You know I’m adopted, right?” I didn’t believe that I deserved all that love and affection. I suspected that it was all a farce that would eventually come crashing down. I’m now 52 years old and there are still random moments when I remind myself that I’m not going to be abandoned.

When I met my husband I knew I needed to face my own fears and my reactions so that I could have an altogether different relationship than I’d ever had before. I came clean on my fears of abandonment and my innate distrust of people who say they love me.

As our relationship grew I found myself in wistful moments wishing that we’d met earlier, counting the years that we didn’t have together and feeling angry that it took me so long to find him.

That same feeling rushes through me now as I think about the time I could have had with my biological siblings. I grew up with cousins and friends who had 5 or more kids in their family and I always wanted that too. (I know my parents would have gladly had more children but it didn’t work out that way.)

Finding my biological mother’s family has been a miracle of joy and laughter tinged with the longing for the time that we missed together. It’s hard to explain that I miss memories with people I only just met, but I do and the only other time I felt that way was when I met M.

With my siblings, I can either focus on the moments I’ve missed (weddings, births, illnesses, job changes) or I can stay present to where we all are today and let these moments build to their own memories down the road.

As someone who always wanted a huge family with many siblings I’ve gotten my wish and I’m so happy that they have accepted me as one of their own.

My story

What my (Real) Mother Knows

Adoptive mothers, like most, come in all shapes and sizes. They come with their own baggage and heartache and they are here on Earth, just like the rest of us to learn a few things and make peace with our humanity.

Some adoptive mothers are very sensitive to stories like mine – when I raise the flag of trauma they are quick to tell me that #notall adoptees are traumatized and that they are doing everything they can to make sure that their adoptees are not traumatized.

It’s scary for them. I get it.

We all want to be loved and most of us want either directly or indirectly, to be appreciated for all the things we do for other people. As much as I try to be selfless in all my interactions – making choices to either be present and helpful or not based on my ability to do it without attachment to outcomes, I know it’s a lofty goal. So why should I hold mothers (adoptive or otherwise) to a standard higher than one I can regularly attain?

Today I’m not talking about all adoptive mothers though, I’m talking about mine because she deserves a day of her very own.

My mom is funny, smart and sometimes bossy (guess where I got it from?). She has strong opinions and doesn’t back down when she thinks knows she’s right. No matter what evidence you bring up to dissuade her. I love that about her even though it can make me crazy when it comes to politics

However, my Mom knows things about me that very few but my inner circle know. (Now you know too).

Here’s a smattering of the stuff my Mom knows about me:

  • That as much as I crave independence and need to wander the world more or less alone, I can’t go a week without hearing her voice and talking to her;
  • The way my eyes look when I’m getting sick and how that differs from the way they look when I’m overtired, (it took me 40 years to figure out what she was talking about, but boy was she right and she’s known it since I was a wee baby);
  • What foods I like and which ones I hate and which ones I love but I really can’t eat, plus she’s awesome at knowing what I should like even though I don’t;
  • All my strange fears – from heights to curvy mountain roads to horror movies and ghost stories (that last one is ironic given that I have studied mediumship for more than 10 years, right?);
  • That I am one of the lightest sleepers on the planet and no matter how quiet she was anytime she came into my room at night I woke up and yelled at her for waking me up! (sorry Mom!);
  • That I would have made a great veterinarian except for my ability to faint nearly every-time I see blood and there’s no way I can stomach seeing anyone in pain;
  • Who my best friends are and why;
  • My all-time favorite birthday cake, that I love her (and grandma’s) apple pie and exactly how to make tuna salad so that I can’t stop eating it;
  • That I love animals but cannot watch movies like Sport of Kings or The Yearling!

This is just a very small list of course. What I’m trying to convey is that despite all the ways that I hate the industry of adoption, I love my parents and my Mom.

You see it’s not a mutually exclusive thing – adoption itself caused me (and I’m sure my birth mother) pain and trauma. However, it also brought me great joy and memories of a life supremely well-lived.

Having a mother like this and a father who is equally amazing (he’ll get his own post soon enough) I recognize that who I am and how I navigate my life has been great. Not every adoptee can say the same.

I’m delighted by my family even though I don’t always love the situation that got me here.

 

My story, Reunions

Finding siblings

The first person I found was my maternal uncle. After our initial email Q&A to verify I was who I said I was, I couldn’t wait to talk to this man who knew my birth mother. Our schedules were a little wonky at the time and we have a three-hour time difference but we scheduled a time one morning before I got to work.

Sitting in the parking lot of my office I didn’t want our call to end. He let me ask him tons of questions about his family, what my bio Mother was like growing up and he asked me many, many questions about my life too. It felt familiar and odd and after we hung up I had to sit in my car and take a dozen deep breaths before I could switch gears and head into the office.

My uncle was 12 years old when I was born and he had no idea that his oldest sister was pregnant with me. Nearly 10 years younger than my birth mother, there were many things he didn’t know about her life, but he has done the best he can to share things about her personality and likes and dislikes.

The things I most wanted to know weren’t big things – instead I wanted to know what made her laugh and what she did with her free time. I wanted to know how she felt about animals and music and art. I asked about her favorite books and TV shows, knowing as I asked that he likely didn’t have the answers.

One of the biggest surprises was finding that I had a sister who had been given up for adoption. My uncle at first thought I must be a twin, he had no idea that my birth mother had been pregnant once out of wedlock, much less twice. To be honest, that little bit of information threw me off balance for an hour or so.

His recollection of finding out about that child and how she reached out to our biological mother’s family is a little fuzzy and he felt it might be best if I didn’t contact her 4 kids with her husband.

This made sense at first. It’s been a lukewarm (at best) reception from my maternal aunts and other uncle and in typical adoptee fashion, I just didn’t want to rock any boats. Adoptees want to make other people comfortable. In therapy, I learned to recognize that people-pleasing trait as one that evolved out of my own desire to be safe. Adoptee trauma of being relinquished by the only human we’ve known at birth teaches us that we can be discarded at any time and we develop various coping mechanisms to ensure that we aren’t abandoned.

The last thing I wanted was to lose the only connection I had to my birth mother by disregarding his request.

However, in typical Peggie fashion, I began imagining my life with my new siblings in it. Besides, I had tons of questions about my adopted sister and wanted to find out how she fared growing up as an adoptee. I wanted to know why the adoption agency hadn’t included information about her in my non-identifying information and I just had a longing that I couldn’t really explain to meet these siblings.

Doing my own sleuthing I found the names and social media profiles (all but one were private) of my maternal half-siblings.

I reached out to friend the adopted sister on Facebook. She didn’t accept the friend request and I immediately went into a spiral of self-doubt, sure that she knew who I was and didn’t want anything to do with me. In reaching out I figured she’d look at my pictures on Facebook and just magically figure out our relationship! HAHAHAHA. (we look alike.)

When I talked myself off the “she hates me” ledge, I wrote her a letter. The letter included the facts of my birth including my place of birth, my birth mother’s name and my date of birth. I tossed in a few other facts about me – my social media sites, where I live, how I love dogs and ended with a request to connect, stating that I hoped she knew how I felt as an adoptee who had been searching for many years. I also told her that our uncle had asked me not to directly contact our birth mother’s other children and that I hadn’t done so.

Then I waited.

And waited.

I tried to move on with my life, assuming that she didn’t want anything to do with me and beginning to wonder if I could simply go on as I always had, pretending that it didn’t really matter if I never got to meet any of my maternal half-siblings.*

On July 23rd I received this message via Facebook:

Hi Peggie! I am Cathy and I AM Christine’s daughter. Just to confirm…you are too?”

Holy cow! I was so excited and nervous and happy that I nearly peed my pants. (seriously, aging isn’t for the weak-hearted.)

It turns out that the letter was mailed to an old address and had been forwarded, but Cathy was away on vacation when it arrived thus the delay in her response.

We agreed to talk the next day and I couldn’t wait.

On July 24 Cathy and I spoke on the phone for nearly an hour. We talked about how surprised we were to find out about each other (who knew our biological mother gave up two of us?!) and we talked about our lives, growing up near each other (the first house I lived in was in the same town where Cathy grew up and went to high school!)

We also talked about our Uncle’s request that I not reach out to the other kids and Cathy shared her belief that they would want to know not only about me but know me and we agreed that she would call one of our half-sisters and let her know.

That evening I received voice mail messages from two of my four additional half-siblings and we began getting to know each other the next day.

It’s weird to call it a reunion because we’ve never known each other. Still, there is a big part of me that is starting to feel complete with these brilliant souls in my world.

Oh, and the day Cathy and I first spoke, July 24, is our birth mother’s birthday. We all agree that it was a nod from our mother to stop keeping secrets and start connecting.

* by the way, I use the term half-siblings because I think it makes it easier for you to know who I’m talking about – but in my heart, none of my new-found siblings are “half” anything. They are very dear to me and very 100% to me.

 

emotions, My story

You Can’t Fix It

It’s not your job to fix it.

Spouses and parents and siblings and even parents of adoptees ask me often how to make things better for the adoptee that that they love and I tell them as gently as possible that it’s not their job to fix it.

Adoptees are as complex as any other group of people on the planet – made up of diverse and sometimes divisive subgroups. Our subgroups range from those who love adoption and can’t imagine it ever being different to those who hate the institution of adoption but love their families to those who ended up in horrific conditions with narcissistic and abusive adoptive parents. Some of us search for our biological families and some have  no desire to search or be found.

One thing that most of us have in common? Connection issues! Call it fear of commitment, intimacy challenges or general unlike-ability, but we’re great at making it hard to love us, all the while wondering why we are so unlovable.

In the article, Adoptees and the Seven Core Issues of Adoption, Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Deborah N. Silverstein state, Adopted persons have reported that they are aware of holding back part of themselves in relationships, always cautious and watchful. Some state that they have never truly felt close to anyone.

My particular flavor of this was a long history of picking partners that were not a great fit for me. They were nice enough men and good people in general, but they were not partners that ultimately were a good match for the long haul.

I’ve been married three times and divorced twice in 22 years. When I decided to release the judgment about my inability to stay married I found an opening to dig into my habits when picking partners. I had my first crush in first grade and my first boy-friend in 8th grade. Since then I’ve been single a total of maybe a year total. You see, I craved connection all while creating situations where true intimacy would not survive.

Not surprisingly my inner work on my broken marriages led me to my fear of being discarded! I had mastered the art of picking someone that wasn’t a fit, so that I could leave them before they left me! This was the perfect set-up for me – that way, when my relationships floundered I had “proof” that love couldn’t be counted on and that ultimately I’d have to fend for myself.

We all repeat our earliest traumas throughout our lives until we heal them. This just happened to be my trauma that needed healing and no amount of love or good intentions by my friends, family or partners could stop the cycle. The cycle could only be stopped by me.

When I met the beautiful human who has since become my third and final husband I had already begun the deep work of stopping the repetitive poor partner cycle. We had long talks on our first few dates about our fears and I shared, for the first time, my extreme fear of trusting someone else with what was most important to me. In those conversations I let him know how I was likely to act out and shut down and gave him tools and information about the best ways to keep me present. He shared similar things about his own situation and it was magical.

Until the first big fight.

Up to that point, I had two M.O.s when it came to fighting – one was to belittle and talk down to the person – seething and angry and the other was to beg for forgiveness, trying to make myself small so that the other person could be right. Both would end with me giving the silent treatment and replaying how I’d been wronged by this other person. As you might imagine, neither way really worked.

This time I caught myself playing my roles and did my best to stop and regroup. Instead of looking to him as the cause of my pain in that moment I eventually figured out that I had no control over anything but my response.

As I write it out here I’m obviously giving you the condensed version and it sounds like unicorns were dancing in rainbows of ice-cream. Let me tell you that there were 7 years of trial and error before we decided to get married and it’s still a work in progress.

However, as time goes on, I feel less worried about being vulnerable and stronger not only in my trust in my relationship but in my trust in myself because I had to do the work to get here.

At the end of the day, you can love your Adoptee unconditionally, but they’ll need to do the inner work to recognize and receive that love.

My story

Auto-Immunity and Adoption

All I remember is driving through the parking lot by the Quest lab; that I missed a scheduled phone call and I was crying. My head was pounding, I was hot and sweaty and something, definitely, hadn’t gone right.

Within a few hours, I was being admitted through the ER to a room at Fairfax Hospital. I saw some familiar faces (I’d been on the same floor three months earlier) and was angry and confused about how I wound up here, again.

For years I’d been trying to get to the bottom of the symptoms that were taking over my life. I’ll spare you the gory details but my digestive issues had gone from embarrassing and uncomfortable to distressing and I soon found out life threatening.

Partially because of my age when I first saw a Gastroenterologist and partly because of my weird ability to tolerate pain, it took a while to diagnose my issue. The Doctor I saw told me that most people with Chron’s or Ulcerative Colitis present symptoms much earlier than in their 40s. In addition, these types of diseases are supposed to be genetic and since I didn’t have a family health history they weren’t sure if this was my problem.

During my first hospital stay, I received 5 (count ’em) pints of blood. For those of you in the medical field, this may be surprising because women generally have a full tank at 8 pints of blood. Obviously, I was severely depleted.

The second time I received 3 or 4 pints. Maybe 5. By the second time, I really didn’t care. I was like that honey badger (NSFW) and all I wanted was for the entire nightmare to go away. Later on, I decided to heed the fact that this, and many other auto-immune diseases can go into overdrive when one is stressed.

Maybe that was the trigger to start digging into my biological family history with a renewed fervor. All I knew was that if this kind of hell could come rumbling through my intestines I wanted a heads-up on anything else that might be hanging out waiting to show up. Plus, I wanted to talk to someone who might understand what I was going through.

Throughout my life, when asked why I was searching for my biological family I’d always replied, “for my medical history, and to find someone who looks like me.” That’s an easy-to-swallow answer for anyone who asks. People get uncomfortable if you tell them you’re searching for your biologicals because you have a hole so deep that you’re afraid it’s going to swallow you up and destroy you. Better to tell them the medical history and the familial looks story.

Until I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, I’d say that I could do and eat pretty much anything – because I had NO MEDICAL HISTORY weighing me down. For instance, I didn’t have to worry about things that my parents or grandparents worried about health-wise because their genes were not my genes! It was like having a free pass at Wally World! I could do all the rides and eat all the things and no one could tell me I needed to take it easy because of my family medical history. (WHEEEE!!)

Interestingly I think the hole that was so deep that it threatened to destroy me is what caused my particular immune system to attack itself. My insides were literally eating away at me and it wasn’t pretty.

It’s my personal experience that illness is a holistic thing, it’s not just in the physical body but it starts in the mental and spiritual self. When we’re not healed and settled in our minds and in our souls, it eventually comes out somewhere. (This does NOT mean that I believe anyone deserves to be sick.) I do believe that we make ourselves sick. Even with diseases that are meant to be genetic.

Here’s the thing – I’ve found my biological families on both sides. No one has this auto-immune disease. If they do, they’re not talking about it and no one seemed to have any recollection or understanding of what this disease is when I asked. However, on my maternal side, there are a number of family members with diabetes and Type-1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease. I don’t know which type my maternal aunts and uncles have, but it’s possible this is a distant connection to my situation.

I believe in signs and that there are no mistakes. I somehow contracted an auto-immune disease that is primarily genetic because it was, in its own way, my genetic story that was needing to be healed. There were so many spiritual aha’s that happened during my journey with my disease and I’m amazed at how much better I’m feeling since I’ve started talking about my story.