I recently shared some of my story in the Old Town Crier’s May 2018 issue. You can read it here.
I feel I came out of the womb believing that the tiniest infraction could cause me to be abandoned, left to fend for myself.
With all due respect to the vulnerability movement that’s all the rage these days, being vulnerable was my kryptonite. My sense was that if I let my guard down for one tiny second and shared how I really felt or told you what I really thought about something, you’d be on the next bus to Peoria, leaving me out in the cold holding the remains of our charred relationship.
To this day it’s hard for me to stand up and take a stand – not because I don’t feel deeply and strongly, but because I have the sense that my opinions and beliefs can isolate me. I built a persona that said I didn’t care what other people thought. I seemed like a tough cookie who could take care of herself. However, I long for connection. I’ve never cared what a stranger thinks of me and my beliefs, but I care deeply what friends and family think. Therefore, I’ve learned to squash my voice to keep the peace. By the way, no one (other than my birth mother) has ever abandoned me. To give my birth mother credit, I don’t think she had much of a choice and I don’t think she wanted to leave me. Besides, no one had ever done a study of the effect of being adopted on a child’s psyche, I’m sure she believed in her heart she was doing the right thing by me.
This ability to talk circles around people while never revealing what I really think and feel, obviously makes navigating relationships a bit of a challenge. I think of the ways I’ve pushed and tested the people closest to me, willing them to read my mind and know what I most desired, all the while refusing to open the Pandora’s box filled with my truth.
It’s not easy loving someone like that. It’s frustrating and I imagine you feel like you’re constantly being set up to fail the relationship test in some way. I get it.
Admittedly, therapy, coaching, and a personal spiritual practice have helped me learn the art of vulnerability. I don’t think I’ll ever be great at it though. It feels, well, too vulnerable for me.
My fear of speaking up, my need to placate and peace-make, and my desire to quash any quarrels before they begin are part of this hard-wiring. Whenever my husband and I disagree I feel my entire body clench up and I immediately want to shut down. We don’t quarrel much and when we do it’s usually something stupid (like why won’t he just take the directions I give him for a new route home??!!!) Still, those moments of disagreement set off an alarm in me and I immediately want to flee. I’ve spent years reminding myself to never be in a position to be left again – so instead of writing it off as a simple difference of opinion, I have an inner dialogue that tells me I need to pack my bags and find a way to fend for myself.
I know this is drastic and I’ve made enough progress that I no longer state, “Well, maybe I should just leave,” after any heated discussion.
My parents comment on the fact that I’ve always been sensitive to anyone having a disagreement. As a small child, I’d try to get in the middle when friends or family were discussing politics. I’d do everything in my power to change the subject, resorting to singing, soliloquies, and comic routines if I couldn’t shut down the conversation.
Does every adoptee have this tendency? Do others who lost one or both of their parents to death or divorce at a young age do this? I have no idea, but I’d like to know if I was born this way, or it’s something I learned as an adopted newborn.
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.
One of the reasons I love the TV show, “This is Us” is because it’s an adoptee’s story. From the very first episode, I’ve been accessing emotions about adoption and the meaning of family and I’m eagerly waiting for the new season to start.
There just aren’t enough shows or movies where adoption is a central theme and whenever a new one comes out I have to check my emotions and figure out how I feel before I commit to seeing it. (Philomena and Lion come to mind – I haven’t seen either yet because I didn’t fancy sitting in a theater and bawling my eyes out surrounded by strangers.)
Although This is Us is fiction and about “triplets” and trans-racial adoption, it still feels like my story. While my mother is not a wanna be singer who is demonstratively affectionate, this family is one I can relate to.
The pilot begins with the finding of a birth father and watching how the relationship grows and expands and contracts throughout the course of each episode is, while fiction, still deeply personal. Sterling K Brown and Ron Cephas Jones stand out as Randall and his long-lost father, William. (I’m so glad that Sterling K. Brown won an Emmy this past week, but I sure wish Ron Cephas Jones had as well – he deserved it!)
This is Us shows us the depth of feeling that comes when you are trying to fit in, even when you don’t. Every week I feel for the character of Randall, and look to him to see ways that I’ve acted and reacted as an adoptee. The writers are obviously familiar with the nuances of adopted life – because this is not an over-the-top portrayal or storyline – it’s human and raw and very real.
Not a very deep post here today – but I wanted to give a shout out to my favorite show and the two men who drove the story-line for me last season.
What are your favorite shows, movies, and books that address the realities of adoption?
A cold day in February 1965 and I was born. When you’re born in February in the Northeast of the United States that’s not unusual. It’s pretty much the way every one of my birthdays played out afterward. Luck of the draw I guess.
My biological mother had been living away from home, likely in one of the Catholic “care” centers for unwed mothers and she went into labor. I can’t imagine what she was feeling or thinking. I like to hope that someone was there with her, but in all my reading about young girls giving birth in places like this, I suspect she was alone with the medical staff and a nun or two.
It should be obvious that I have no recollection of this moment in time. I don’t know how long I worked to make my way into the bright lights of that stark hospital room in Newark and I have no idea if my biological mother held me, or looked into my eyes or stroked my face.
Since it’s my made up memory I like to think she looked at me closely and told me to head out into the world and not take any crap from anyone. She may also have instructed me to be my own person and to be a good person. I feel certain she wanted me to be strong, independent and happy. I can feel that in my bones.
Had I grown up with her I suspect we may have been too much alike to get along, but looking back, I’m grateful for those admonishments she no doubt gave me to head out into the world without her.
History books tell us that in 1965 the world was at a crossroads – there were the mores and rules of “good” society pushing against the coming wave of “love-ins” and hippies. It was the year that skirts were getting shorter, Martin Luther King Jr. led a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery and the Vietnam war was worsening. In short, it wasn’t much different from the world I’m living in today. We’re still struggling with civil rights, wars are waging around the world and no matter where you look someone is ready to tell you what your morals ought to be.
However, one thing is different. There is less stigma attached to becoming pregnant without being married. Reality TV embraces it, in fact.
In 1965 “good” girls supposedly didn’t have babies if they weren’t married. Yet, they did. Good girls had babies. And that’s how I got here.