Monday, March 24, 2008

You should really talk more about being adopted...

This is going to be a long one. If you're not interested, now's your chance to escape. If you're staying, better pour yourself a Coke, grab the bag of chips and settle in. You have been warned.

The title of today's post is a suggestion I've heard several times now since starting this blog. Why don't I talk more about my own adoption? How much time do you have?

The reasons I don't talk about it here are many, but they include:
  • Not wanting to upset, embarrass or offend my mom with unpleasant revelations or memories about my childhood (For clarification purposes, when I use the words "mother" or "mom," I am referring to the mother who raised me: my adoptive mother, although I hate calling her my "adoptive mother" and never do so in real life situations. She's just my Mom. When I refer to my birth mother, that's what I normally call her. Sometimes, I say bio/biological mother. I don't do the whole "first mother" thing that's so popular right now. I don't like it. Anyway, you should be able to differentiate with no problem). Both mothers and other family members visit my blog, so I feel an obligation to practice restraint. I am acutely aware that my story is not just my own. To be completely open and honest about it, means I will probably say something that is seen as hurtful by the other people involved. And you know the old saying, "If you can't say something nice..."
  • Along the same lines... My attitude towards some of the people involved is probably not what it should be, although I don't really know what it should be. Maybe I should say that, as a Christian, I fear it's not what God would want it to be. I live with a lot of guilt. I feel I should be more forgiving, more accepting, more understanding, less hurt, less angry, etc. Some days, I'm at total peace with the whole mess, full of understanding and forgiveness. Some days, I'm not. And usually, the more I think and talk about it, the more self-focused I become- and the more I feel slighted, betrayed, and treated unfairly. This doesn't mesh with how the Word of God tells me I should feel and think (Just one example: "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires... If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless." James 1:19,26).
  • Mostly, I just plain don't wanna talk about the ugliness of it in a public forum. It doesn't make me happy. How's that? Maybe I will want to someday, but not today.

The entire thing is a long, convoluted mess of a story. I think I've touched on my childhood a little bit in this previous post, but have never given the adoption back story. The best I can do on this blog is an edited version without the spicy details, and with an effort made to keep my judgments and opinions out of it (yeah, we'll see how that goes), which is not the most interesting way to tell a story, I know. Sorry. I'm told it's a juicy and titillating tale from a listener's POV, but I don't owe "a juicy story" to anyone. It's not my job to provide shocking, heart-wrenching, touching, or exciting stories. That's what Oprah is for.

I was told I was adopted as a child, but adoption was not openly discussed in my home growing up. I consider that to be no fault of my parents- that's just the way it was back then. The few times I recall bringing it up, my mother was visibly "ruffled" and I was aware of doing something wrong.

**And may I interrupt my own story here for just a second, to encourage APs not to be afraid of questions? Welcome and encourage them. Answer them. Let your kid ask or say whatever they need to say. Try as hard as you can to remove yourself and your own insecurities from the situation. Remember some things are not about you. Let them feel their feelings without guilt. Provide opportunities and outlets for them to get those feelings out in the open. Don't wait for them to bring it up, either. They may not realize they're allowed to talk about it, if they don't hear you talk about it. Recognize that the life they had before you is part of who they are and should be treated with love and respect. It can only help draw you closer and build a solid relationship. Lecture done. Moving on.

I didn't know many details of my conception and birth, or why I was placed for adoption, until I was around 26. By that time, you have a fairly clear idea of who you are. It took years, trying to readjust my compass, to come to grips with how the knowledge of my story has changed my perception of myself. Self Identity is a stubborn thing. The few sketchy details I thought I knew, came from my parents who got them from their agency. Those details turned out to be untrue. Catholic Charities may have thought the truth would make me a less desirable candidate. I don't know.

Here are the basic, non-juicy facts that I can share with you...
I was relinquished in 1966 by a woman with two other children, ages 7 and 10, so I have two older bio half-siblings who were raised by their mother. She was separated from her husband, and they reconciled during her pregnancy with me. Her husband was not my father. They divorced years later, shortly before I met her in 1993. He dropped her off at the hospital to have me. She never held or saw me. The husband looked at me once, apparently. He brought her back home after my birth and I was never discussed. I was just gone. She kept my relinquishment a secret from everyone (but the husband), allowing her family to believe she had "lost" her baby. My half-siblings learned of my existence, from their mother, shortly before I met all of them. They had forgotten about their mother's pregnancy until she revealed her story to them as adults.

I was adopted as an infant by a married couple with one 9 year old bio son, so I have an older brother. As I said, they used Catholic Charities and were told by the agency that my birth mother was very young (she is actually a year or so older than my mom) and single; basically a poor girl "in trouble." I guess that seemed more "acceptable" to them than the truth? The agency's version was understandable- something you can sympathize with; something that would make me sound deserving and in need of a family.

During my first pregnancy, I grew tired of writing "unknown" in boxes on medical forms and not knowing my own medical history for my kid's sake. That's how the wondering started. Before that the thoughts were just vague and distant wisps. Nothing concrete. I had learned to feel guilty when I wondered, so I tried not to. But I couldn't help wondering where the boys' blue eyes came from, as Darrell and I have green. The wondering eventually grew into an ache, then a need. I wanted to know who I was and where I came from for MY sake (Oh, be careful of what you wish for, little girl...). I decided to start searching after my second pregnancy.

In the state where I was born, at the time of my search, the records were sealed and only a court-approved private investigator was allowed to petition the court to open them and release them to the adoptee. That may have changed now. I certainly hope so. My history, my personal beeswax, was known by the investigator before it was known by me. Seems a little screwy to me the way adoptees are treated as if their own life is none of their business, but whatever. I digress. We paid the investigator a ridiculous amount of money to gain access to my own life, and she went to work.

I called my parents to let them know I was searching, out of respect. They had a right to know. Plus, it was an exciting and scary time and I wanted their support. My mom burst into tears. She was hurt and mad. It was so difficult to know I had broken her heart. I felt like I was the most selfish, disgusting scum on earth, and at the same time was indignant over feeling that way. I felt very lonely and afraid all of a sudden not to have the support I had hoped for, but still I understood her feelings. And I had Darrell. Thank God. He was a rock during that time.

It didn't take the investigator long to starting collecting information. Too bad the initial info was incorrect. She soon called me and coldly read the non-identifying "facts" surrounding my conception, birth and adoption as if reading a weather report. The very first piece of information I was given was that I was born to a married couple with two children. My mind was racing and I crumbled inside, as the P.I. kept right on talking (So then, she means this wasn't a matter of "having to give me up?" They had other kids and just... Didn't. Want. Me.). This new detail did not fit the mental ideal I'd cooked up for myself (with a little help from the good folks at Catholic Charities); that my birth mother was young and single and scared and "had no other choice." She would have kept me if she could, but she had no choice. I was a wanted child, but her circumstances determined that she had... Blah, blah, blah. It was all a bunch of lies. Lies I'd been telling myself all my life to feel better about her and what she did; trying to understand. Trying to justify. Trying to insulate myself from feeling rejected. Ever feel completely worthless and unwanted, like trash to be thrown away? I sure did that day. It was the first major "heartbreak moment," in what would unfortunately become a semi-regular series of them over the next few years. This minor blunder was later clarified when the P.I. made contact with the bio mother and learned her husband was not my bio father, but for the first few days I was a zombie. Wait. Do Zombies bust out crying while cooking dinner, or driving their cars? I called Darrell at work to tell him right after I finished talking to the investigator and I absolutely, totally lost it. I felt like I'd just been punched in the gut and kicked in the teeth after being run over by a truck. I didn't know at the time that that would become a very familiar feeling. It took me a long time to get past that feeling. At least I think I'm past it.

The P.I. said the next step was to write a letter to my birth parents, explaining why I'd like to meet them. Keep in mind, at this time, I still believed I was writing to my two married parents. It felt like grovelling to me. Begging. It felt like I was being asked to advertise or promote myself; make myself sound worthy enough to meet the people who gave me "the gift of life." I was supposed to make it clear that I didn't blame or judge them, I just wanted to meet them. What I really felt like saying was... Well, we'll just save that part for another post. Anyway, the letter writing process was very humiliating and difficult. There were countless drafts, and probably even more moments of wondering if I should just stop this whole thing right then and there. Just forget it. But how could I do that by that point?

The time came to get to the particulars... Do we meet, or do we not? Everything was still being mediated by the P.I. I couldn't be given any names or contact info. until all the parties gave consent. But there was a glitch. My birth mother was open to it, but her former husband was not. The problem? He was listed as my father on my original birth certificate. It was only at this time I found out he really wasn't. But still, because his name was on the certificate, he had to give permission for a meeting to take place between the bio mother and me, even though they were divorced and he wasn't my bio father. I was told he feared I may be after his money. He didn't want to be legally obligated in any way to a kid (kid, trash, whatever) that wasn't his. Understandable enough, I guess. The investigator pleaded with him on my behalf and assured him I wanted nothing from him and would leave him alone if he would just please, please be kind enough to allow me to meet my birth mother. I had to sign some legal thing, drafted especially for the occasion, promising to never try to contact him in any way or claim him as my dad (Gee, what a loss). More grovelling. More humiliation.

He agreed and I got the contact information for my birth mother. I called her that same night, which was by far the scariest phone call I've ever made. The P.I. assured me she was sitting at home waiting for my call, but she didn't know who I was for a few minutes after I called. Awkward moment. We met a few weeks later, I think.

I can't tell you how odd it is to stare into a stranger's face and see your own features. It was exciting and scary and emotional. And weird. I met my half siblings and their families, although not all in that same night. Everyone was nice. I remember wondering if they were all horribly disappointed in me, or wishing I'd just disappear (again). The first meetings went OK and we planned future get-togethers. The future get-togethers gradually grew further and further apart over the years. There's not much interaction anymore. My birth mother and I exchange emails occasionally, and see each other maybe once every year or two. I don't have much contact with the half-sibs or other family members and don't know them very well, although they've always been nice to me when I do see them.

It's an odd and difficult thing, for all involved, to meet close blood relatives for the first time in adulthood. There's no etiquette or rule book for handling that kind of thing. The truth is, there's just no way to replace or fake the bond that can only come from knowing someone all your life. You can't fast-track a history together. You're related, but you're strangers. You have things in common, yet you're completely different.

So, there you have it. There's the story. The "Short Version!" lol! Whaddya think?

A natural question is, "Did you find what you hoped to find?" That depends. What was I hoping to find? lol! I still don't know. I guess the answer is basically a "No." I did get half of a medical history, which was my original goal, so I guess it was halfway successful then? When I started looking, I wasn't completely aware of all the hidden expectations and hopes I had tucked away inside.

The whole experience has truly been the proverbial Pandora's Box. There have definitely been some blessings here and there, but it also caused waaay more pain than I was prepared to handle. Pain that affected others around me, yet can never be fully understood by those closest to me. It's been draining, exhausting, and at times, tormenting. However, I still believe every adoptee has the right to know where they come from. Nobody should have to wonder about their own identity and history.

If you're considering a search of your own, for yourself or on behalf of your child, I would just caution you first to do a lot of self-searching before you begin. Make sure you're being completely honest with yourself about your reasons for wanting to search, and take lots of time to consider your own hidden expectations. Sort the fantasies from the realities. Carefully and deliberately consider all possible outcomes. What would be your worst-case scenario, and are you prepared to handle it if that or something worse happens? How good are you at dealing with rejection? Are you considering the impact on your other relationships? What are the long-term ramifications, and are you really prepared for those? It sounds stupid, but you need to remember you can't go back and unlearn something once you learn it. Be sure. Be very, very sure. And don't assume or expect anything (Easier said than done!). Just my two cents. And always keep a litter bag in your car... OK- That one was thrown in just to see if you're still listening.

To those of you who asked me about this stuff, I hope I gave you the info you were hoping for. If not, and there's something you'd like to know- just ask me. I'll either answer you or I won't! HA! I may prefer to answer in a personal email, but I'll probably answer. If there's an interest in this, I may do another post about it. Let me know what you as a parent feel would be helpful to hear from me as an adoptee (if anything), and I'll see what I can do. And as always, if you want to comment or discuss, great!


Angel said...

GREAT POST!!! Litter bag in my car! hmmm... You crack me up! ;0) I am so sorry for the pain you experienced. I think there are wonderful lessons to be learned for adoptive parents here. I know that was a different time. I am so grateful to live in a time where adoption is not a hidden thing.

I try so hard to make Zoe's birth mommy and open topic of conversation. We have her picture framed in the house and talk about her pretty regularly. I had to work through those feelings and decide I would not let myself get weird about it. This is someone else who loves Zoe. That can't be a bad thing for her. I feel like I should encourage her to talk about it. I feel like it would be like if my mom died suddenly and then I was just told never to speak about her again. It would compound the pain. Ya know? I want her to be able to feel those things and work through it with me.

I am so grateful that your rock of a hubby has been there to work through it with you. That is awesome.


Christina said...

You are a brave woman, to tackle such a big emotion-packed story on your blog. And you have a lot of hard-earned wisdom to share. My two older sisters were adopted and I was always impressed with how open and encouraging my mom was about them finding their birthparents. Honestly I think she was almost as curious as they were, as the histories they came with were rather sparse and not very accurate. (I think that was really common with domestic adoptions in the sixties).

I struggle now, with talking to R about her birthmom. I know absolutely nothing - so I don't know where to go beyond "I don't know." Even just telling how she was placed in a good orphanage can be loaded with the implication "your birthmom loved you so much..." and what if that isn't true? A friend of mine who is a missionary in Cambodia said she thinks it is a thing better left unknown - because in too many cases children are abandoned without the loving grieving feelings we assume would be there. (Maybe the mother was raped or a prostitute, maybe the child was born on an "unlucky" day... a myriad of reasons that we Americans would not relate to and that would really hurt an adoptee to hear) So I try to leave it open, but R is already building up a love story in her mind and has such a desire to find her Cambodian mom and dad. I just try to leave it in God's hands and not worry about tomorrow...

Anyway, enough about me! I'm sorry your search resulted in so much pain, but I'm glad you got some answers - every person has a right to their own story.

Anonymous said...

I can not even begin to describe to you how completely timely this is. I just spent two days straight, every spare minute, crying and sobbing my way through "The girls who went away" - have you read it? My Mom was one of those girls, my MIL was one of those girls. I'm the middle of a post I'm going to throw up on LoTR about this very topic. I think I really needed to hear this viewpoint right now as I'm on the verge of searching. I think the ramifications are far reaching and you've shed some light on some of the reasons why this is not a casual decision and should not be rushed into. Thank you for sharing.

LaLa said...

What a wonderful post! I am sad that you had to go through all of this and hope someday Annslee can process things with my help ...

Michelle said...


I look forward to reading your post on LoTR (if it's not password protected)- Can't wait! Always love to hear what you have to say. And thank you for the book suggestion- I haven't read it yet but ordered it tonight (along with a couple others... ;O Amazon is such a dangerous place for me. Someone needs to do an intervention and lovingly remove my Amazon privileges). I'll have a box of Kleenex ready when it comes.

Thanks so much to all of you guys for the supportive comments! It's so great to be able to talk about this topic with people who are open to listening and WANT to understand. I appreciate it.

Elaine said...

Loved this post!

Kelly said...

Michelle - Thank you so much for sharing this. As an adoptive parent, I am constantly searching for information from adoptees about the best way to handle different situations that are definitely going to come up with Lucy. We plan on talking openly with her about her adoption, but we have so little information to give her. I hate that. I wish we had more to tell her, but at this point we just don't. We plan on leaving it up to her about whether or not she wants us to take the steps to search for more information. I appreciate your honestly and for bringing up questions that I had not really thought about. Thank you.

Lori said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. Your honesty and truthfullness give me alot to consider when the time comes to answer questions for my child.

Possum said...

Finally got around to reading this post - and it's great.
Heartbreaking - but great.
I too - know so well - the shattering of the long held beliefs that an adoptee can hold.
And wow it hurts.
Thank you for your writing.
Poss. xxxx