Today’s blog is courtesy of LINK>an essay at Today.com. Shannon Gibney is the author of The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be. Her book is described as A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption. It was published by Dutton just last month, January 2023. Her book details her search and reunion with her birth families, as well as the ongoing ripple effects of adoption intergenerationally. She notes – “For adoptees, figuring out our story requires work — scouring fragments of documents, stories and phone conversations. And sometimes, we still come up short.” As the child of two adoptees that basically had to do the same thing – I can relate and so, I share.
Shannon is a mixed-Black woman who was adopted by a white family. This is commonly referred to as trans-racial adoption. She writes, “In a culture that deeply values personal and family histories that appear to be seamless — at least on the surface — those of us who have little or nothing to go on can feel alienated and alone. Which is why so many adoptees search.” Certainly, for my mom and for my own self, we quickly became aware of the priority of genetic relationship in working with the DNA matching sites – 23 and Me and with Ancestry.
Shannon compares her own search to the more difficult efforts of international adoptees from countries outside of the US. Therefore, she says – As a domestic, mixed-Black transracial adoptee, my search for my birth family and my beginnings was far easier to navigate, although I didn’t know it at the time I began searching. I could say as much myself. My own search turned out to be surprisingly easy and relatively quick (within a year I knew who all 4 of my original grandparents were, something of their stories and had connected with living genetic relatives that I had not known about before).
Her birth mother had given the adoption agency permission to share her identity with Shannon, if she should ever reach out and ask for it. She goes on to describe what happened next – Thus began a long, complicated, on-again and off-again relationship with my birth mother, which ended with her death from a rare cancer in 2014. While initially getting to know her, she told me that she had had a very brief relationship with my birth father and couldn’t give me any real information about him beyond his name. She also warned me that he was “dangerous,” that she didn’t trust him, and that they “were both lost souls” at the time they got together. And, as it turned out, I did not have any biological siblings.
A therapist who specializes in adoption issues helped her to track down information about her birth father, though sad – In 1981, he had died from injuries he had sustained from a high speed police chase in Palo Alto, California. She was 6 years old at the time. She notes his family – “held the blackness that set me a country apart from both my white adoptive and biological families. This was a kind of racial and cultural damage I hadn’t anticipated.”
Yet, also a happy outcome – I eventually tracked down my paternal grandfather, and was even able to talk to him some years before his death. Likewise, conversations and meetings with my biological aunt and uncle on my father’s side have filled in many gaps in my story, and have given me the great gift of a fuller picture of my father. I may have never met him, but I can surmise so many things about him from the little information I do have.
Similarly to Shannon, I have had to accept – Adoptees will never have fully fleshed out stories of our origins, but we do have the conviction that we deserve far more truths than we ever receive, and we have a dogged determination to seek them out. All of this can make us feel frustrated. And yet, I too have discovered “talking to other adoptees we realize that we are actually not alone in our struggles, and that there are strategies and communities we can build to help mitigate the difficulty and disappointment. We also have imaginations that we can use to explore the people and possibilities that brought us into existence and with whom we co-create our identities.”