General adoptee thoughts, Support, Uncategorized

The List is Long

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.)

Guilt.

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.

emotions, Reunions, Support

Approaching Your Birth Family

When I first found my maternal Uncle I pretty much barfed my entire personal journey and every last piece of information I had to him in an email. Until he received my email he had no idea that I existed. Nor did he really care. Why would he? I was just another random person in the world.

However, I knew he existed. I knew he was the youngest of six kids. I knew the names of his siblings and their ages and I knew the names and occupations of his parents. I’d carried that information around from house to house and through 3 marriages. That folder with my non-identifying information was my touchstone and I had turned the people in that folder into semi-fictional characters.

Every year that I couldn’t find them, the less real they became.

Thus the barfing the information into my Uncle’s email box.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t do that. Thankfully my Uncle is a gracious and kind human who was genuinely happy to be found. He welcomed me to the family with no strings attached.

Looking back, I have some recommendations in case you are looking for a way to reach out to your newly found biological relatives:

  • Stick to the facts that are directly pertinent to the person you’re communicating with. If your non-identifying information has personal details about other members of the family, leave it out.
  • When connecting with someone on a DNA site, stick to the DNA facts. It’s often best to resist the urge to state that you’re an adoptee looking for family. Many people on DNA sites are surprised to find out that a member of their family had an out-of-wedlock child and to identify yourself as such can shut down all future communications as the person tries to determine how to bring the subject up to their family. Instead, let the person know that you’re doing some DNA research and have found a connection and ask them if they’d be willing to communicate to try to find where you are related. (In my search I reached out to a third cousin match with my adoption story and he responded with an earful about his cheating brothers and some not-so-nice terms for his sisters. Frankly, he scared me and I stopped communicating with him pretty quickly. Yes, we are still DNA matches but not immediate cousins.)
  • Remind yourself that even though you’ve known about these people for years, they may have no idea you exist. Don’t take it personally if they ask you for proof or even respond saying that you must be mistaken. If the relative you are directly connected to is a sibling or parent who has died, the person you reach may want to protect that person’s name or reputation and thus deny any connection, even if they have suspicions and know for a fact that DNA doesn’t lie. It’s easier for them to keep the secret than to change the way they see the person in question.
  • Understand that any reaction isn’t personal. Although you share DNA you don’t have any other connection. Getting to know someone and building a relationship takes time. If they do or don’t want to continue conversation it’s not about you, it’s about them working through this new information.
  • Try to be an observer. Put your observer hat on and gauge which reactions are like ones you have and which you feel are so different. I started putting those in my “nature” vs. “nurture” files for future reference.
  • Respect the other person. I know many adoptees don’t agree with me on this point and that’s okay. As a human, I believe we all have a right to our feelings and our own process, even if it’s difficult. I wanted people in my biological family to like me and be okay with me being in their world. I wanted them to like me. Even so, I respect the feelings of those who aren’t psyched to have me throwing a wrench in their lives. I don’t like it. I just remember that it isn’t about me and that it’s not my job to judge them or convince them.
  • Feel your feelings. As Adoptees, we are prone to compartmentalizing our feelings and turning off our feelings if they are uncomfortable. We may do this by lashing out at the person in question or others in general or we may do it by shutting down. Either isn’t an optimal solution for the long term. If you’re sad, own it. If you’re angry, feel it. Let your feelings sit with you and then they dissipate. If you shove them away or pretend they don’t exist you end up prolonging the pain. (I recommend finding an outlet to deal with your feelings – for me, it’s writing and painting.)
  • Give it time. When my biological father and I first spoke on the phone he was shocked! He had no idea I existed. My biological mother sort of disappeared from his life when she got pregnant (as he recalls) and here I was, 52 years later saying, “Here’s a cigar! You’ve got a girl!” While he was gracious, he needs time to process this information and I understand that. I’m hopeful that someday we’ll get to know each other.
  • Ask for help and support if you need it. Adoptees don’t love sharing our “stuff” with others, but asking for help and support are truly outstanding ways to cope with the feelings that come up during a first connection. If you have a social worker, a search angel, a coach or a therapist use them to help you. Or tap into your friends, clergy or other people who can hold the space that you need to navigate this new situation in your life.
  • Resist the temptation to wallow in anything. Whether it’s pain or joy, instead of blasting it everywhere right away, give yourself time to process what is happening in ways that are healthy and affirming for you. There’s a big difference between feeling your feelings and wallowing – one is enriching and the other is destructive. If you’re not sure of the difference, please find someone who can help.

In no way is this a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will help you navigate the process of meeting your biological family.

Those of you who have gone through this – what else would you add?

 

emotions, Support

#NotAll is Ludicrous

Every time I hear an adoptee share their story on-line or even in person, there is a quick rebound of Adoptive Parents (APs), Hopeful Adoptive Parents (HAPs) and others who aren’t even in the adoption triad responding with #NotAll.

Of course, I’ve seen it hundreds of times when other people who are generally disenfranchised speak up about their experience too.

Whenever I see this response I’m upset. I’m upset because the person telling their story is entitled to feel their story – to be in it and because when your knee-jerk response is to tell them (or me) “not all fill in the blank do that/think that/say that,” you are telling us that you are more concerned with you than with learning about the experience and feelings being shared.

We are a knee-jerk nation — quick to judge and quick to cut people off who are speaking things that are not in alignment with our world view. We often couch this in the belief that we’re just helping.

I’m guilty of this myself. A few weeks ago my half-sister called me and started telling me about the crap going down at her job. I worked in the same industry for many years and instead of just listening to her, I immediately went into my knee-jerk mode of giving advice from my personal experience.

Lucky for me she’s not shy about stating her needs and her response was, “Stop trying to fix me! Just listen.” (I’m still  in awe of that simple request and am doing my best to channel my sister when people talk over me!)

It’s awesome to talk about love and light and sending visions of sugarplums to heal the ills of the world, but it’s harder to show up and do the loving thing which is to listen, even if, especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Adoptees need to share their stories. Many of us have spent our lives trying to make other people feel comfortable with our existence. Even people like me who were raised with unbelievably loving families still feel the pings of not fitting in and worrying that at any time we could be banished or sent away from everything that is familiar and safe. (Our logic says it happened before, it can happen again!)

The need to make you comfortable and my fear of not being truly loved has existed at various stages throughout my life and for me and many adoptees, we don’t start understanding the depth of this feeling until we are well ensconced in adulthood.

The freedom to talk about what I feel or felt, even if it goes against my grown-up, polite and people-pleasing self is an important part of my healing.

Sometimes what I say comes out in a child-like way – and it’s painful. I throw emotionally triggered phrases in as a 10-year-old might and that’s the only way I know how to get out what needs to be said. There are no appropriate words in my adult lexicon for these feelings because I’m digging up stuff that’s been buried for decades.

When I speak about my experience, with individuals or groups of people that I’ve encountered, I’m telling you my story. I’m not implicating you – or EVERYONE in my story. I am telling you my story because I feel safe with you and I trust that you’re listening. When you respond with “Not all…” I feel that you are negating my experience and telling me that it’s not valid. I’m also hearing you say that my knowledge is inferior and my life experience is flawed because I don’t know that not all people are that way. That is the best way to get a typical childish response – treating me like a child!

Please, when talking with a friend, colleague or even a stranger let them own their experience. Don’t try to belittle it by telling them that the majority of people aren’t that way. I assure you, they know.