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?

 

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.

 

Uncategorized

Television for Adoptees

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?

 

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.

 

 

emotions, My story

It’s Kind of a Big Deal

All the other kids had stories about their last names. With 30 kids in the class, it took a while to get through the entire assignment. Each student making their way up to the front of the classroom, picking up the piece of chalk and writing their last name on the green board before they began their story.

Some had interesting stories like my little red-headed classmate told the story about her ancestors in Ireland who collected the fees to drive along the roads, and that’s where her last name, Feehan came from. I had a much less exciting story – my last name means son of Arvid, apparently a pretty common first name in Sweden.

That spurred my curiosity about my other surname. I wondered what the story was with that name. I never asked because I knew there was no way to know the answer. That’s when I first consciously told myself, “It’s no big deal.”

Throughout my life whenever I would talk about my adoption I was conflicted. Part of me wanted to shake whomever I was speaking to and look them in the eyes and say, “THIS IS IMPORTANT! It’s the most important thing in my life.” However, I would more often than not brush off their questions with short answers, feeling the blood rushing to my face as I tried to change the subject because it was so close, so personal and I didn’t feel safe sharing that much depth with the other person. In the end, I would give a throwaway, “It’s really no big deal. I have a great life.”

While the great life is true, I was lying when I said that being adopted is no big deal.

Hundreds of times in my life I’ve stated that it’s no big deal. As I reflect I’m trying to figure out why that is and the best I can come up with is that I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable (least of all myself) with the depth of my emotions. If I admitted that it was, in fact, the biggest deal in my life I would be forced to face myself and ask why it mattered so much.

I’d been told my entire life that I was lucky and blessed and special to be adopted. In fact, I’ve felt grateful to be in my family pretty much every day, so how could that feeling co-exist with the distress and ache I felt whenever I thought about being adopted?

It didn’t make sense to me, so I continued to insist that being adopted is no big deal.

In spiritual self-help circles, you’re told that your words hold energy and that what you repeatedly tell yourself becomes true. Obviously, this teaching is good in theory. If you want more income don’t focus on not having income. If you want a love connection, repeat to yourself that you’re lovable and worthy.

What they don’t tell you is that the words themselves are not the magic. It’s the energy you toss into those words – the belief that comes along with the repetition. Why most people don’t fall in love within weeks or months or years of repeating “I am lovable and worthy,” is the same reason that my repeating, “Being adopted is no big deal,” never took hold. I didn’t believe it.

In my bones, I knew that being adopted was a very big deal. It was a big deal for my parents and my family. It was a big deal for my birth mother, and it was indeed a big deal for me.

I’ve started to own the fact that being adopted is my cornerstone. This is the foundation that everything else in my life has come from. The structure of my relationships, the heft, and weight of my self-acceptance, the story that I’m meant to not only live but tell – is that I am adopted.

That’s why I wrote my book. That’s why I show up here. That’s why I’m facing all my deep fears and insecurities about talking about what’s most true for me – because adoption is a big deal and I want anyone else who may be sweeping it under the rug for any reason to know that it’s okay to let it be a big deal for you.

I’d love your perspective. Is adoption a big deal for you or someone you know? Share your thoughts in the comments and if you liked it, please share this post with your friends and followers!