How To Answer What’s It Like

Though my mom talked to me about her being adopted, my dad never did. I didn’t have enough background foundation to ask more direct questions of my parents and since they are both deceased, that opportunity has been lost to me. Therefore, I am always interested in adoptee’s who share how it feels to have been adopted.

Some stories for a Sunday morning –

As an adoptee, I get a lot of questions about my experience and feelings toward my adoption. I have found great value in trying to understand and explain those experiences. Recently I was asked by a friend, “What is it like for you to be an adoptee during childhood ? What about as an adult, is it the same or is the experience different ?”

I have so many mixed feelings about it confusion, pain, anger, and loneliness are the primary feelings I have about it, especially when I was younger. I didn’t understand why I was so different from my family and from others. It was always a hot button for someone being a jerk to press – being unloved by my birth mother or disposable by her. I mean, the family I grew up in ? We don’t look alike, act alike or even communicate in the same ways. I was sent away during a four year period of my childhood to boarding schools and wilderness programs because they said I was “out of control.”

I just had so much anger when I was younger but now I truly believe that my adoptive parents had no idea how to handle me. I didn’t get to say things like “it’s because of my heritage,” or “it’s the Irish in me” because I really didn’t know my history. Those feeling are subsiding with age and time and my search for who I am increases yearly. I want to share those genetic connections that others share and see my quirks in another person, without seeming like I am ungrateful.

My adoptive parents are very supportive of this search but I know that it does hurt them. As a father myself, I am finally experiencing some of those things and kinds of similarities I always wanted, and it is a beautiful feeling. The feeling now is more longing, hope, and feeling lucky to be alive (I know this is not a popular thought with all adoptees but it’s how I feel), and an acceptance of my own reality as I create for my own self my life going forward. It still hurts, a lot. And it fills me with the constant fear regarding my other relationships that I might again experience being abandoned.

Blogger’s note – my father never did get that son he wanted. My parents had three daughters and so, maybe that is why my mom was more forthcoming with me, than my dad was.

Another one – I was fostered from birth and forced to become an adoptee at the age of 10 (it was a closed adoption during the Baby Scoop Era, a period in history starting after the end of World War II and ending in the early 1970s, my mother was coerced to relinquish her rights just before I turned 8 years old).

I still hold a deeply felt anger for the lies I was told and also the physical and mental abuse at the hands of the woman who was allowed to adopt me. I miss my natural mother daily – always have and always will. What I have found empowering as an adult adoptee (yes, it is part of who I am & always will be — I am an adoptee) is speaking out for others, advocating for current foster and adopted youth, so that there’s the opportunity for them to have a better childhood than the one I experienced.

I never would have thought so but doing the DNA tests and discovering living blood relatives (aside from my daughter and her family — who are descendants – and my estranged mother — I never knew of anyone) has been healing. Additionally, I’ve become very involved in building out both sides of my ancestral/heritage family tree. It has been an education in many ways, and although there is a bittersweet sadness to so much, there is also an identification of where I actually do belong within the life/death continuum and that has been an emotionally uplifting experience that has caught me off guard but in a mostly positive way. I am honoring their ancestral (genetic/genealogical) legacy, at the same time I am acknowledging my own place, while learning many things that even my mother (who hid my existence) never knew.

Blogger’s note – for my own self as well. Doing the DNA tests at Ancestry and 23 and Me have filled in the gaps that parents died never knowing. I still need to complete the “new” family trees I started for each of them with their birth identities and genetic relations at Ancestry. It just feels like the right thing to do for each of them. I now have family history. When one has grown up without that, it is difficult to describe how amazing that actually feels.

The next story – I was in the fog until I was about 20. I always knew I was adopted. And my adoptive parents did so much better than most. I always felt like the rug would be pulled out from under me. Always waiting for some big bad disaster. Always distrusting and always feeling like I was somehow “wrong.” As an adult, I have worked really hard to break the cycle of harm. But I still always feel like I have to prove something or I am not valid. And I don’t think I will ever feel like I fit in anywhere.

One last story – as a child I was very curious about my heritage, I always wondered if I had siblings. My adoptive parents gave me a good childhood, we did a lot of things and they were very loving. As I got older, I was also “out of control” and my parents didn’t know what to do. I ended up, moving out at 17 years old.

I had been living in the fog, up until last year. Now, as an adult, it’s like a rollercoaster. An unexplainable ride of emotions from good to bad and everything in between. I’ve been through my reunion. I have 4 half brothers, who I love dearly. I have no relationship with either biological parent. No romantic relationship in my life BUT it’s nice to know that I’ve consistently sabotaged most of them, due to my fear of abandonment (now I understand why). I’ve spent the last year or so really healing from my adoption trauma and it’s felt really good. I still have pain that will never go away. I struggle mostly with the desire to love my biological mother as I “should” and resenting her terribly for abandoning me (twice). She wants no relationship with me and I’m ok with that, it just makes me sad.

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.

Leave The Door Open

Recently a commenter on my blog was making a big deal about “genetic parents” being able to opt out of their own child’s lives. This could be equated to surrendering a child to adoption and this commenter actually extended her perspective to donor egg or sperm sources. I don’t think her points of view are realistic but she is an activist in such concerns and I understand her perspectives. Like much of scientific medical advances being light years ahead of moral and ethical considerations. She thought ALL of the parents should be on a birth certificate and have full responsibility for the well-being of the children involved. As a society, we are simply not there yet.

Happily, there is a huge effort within the adoption community (made up of adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents and birth parents) to create an organic, grassroots kind of reform of the whole situation. What might such a “reformed” situation look like ? I think this story is an excellent example and so I share it with you today (I hasten to add, it is NOT my own story, because sometimes that isn’t understood in this blog).

My daughter’s parents were very distant after they made the adoption plan for her. They felt that by doing so, they had given up their rights to ask anything or to know her (this is what both of them have explained to me). Keep reaching out, keep sending photos, updates, hand and foot crafts, etc. When my adoptive daughter was almost 3 yrs old, her mother came to understand that we DID want her in our daughter’s life and that we were happy to have her here. Her dad went longer, so many years with out seeing her, he said that he was afraid of making her life harder by showing up when he finally felt ready. We talked about it and I sent a ton of links to him showing that it’s better for children to know their families, if they can. That year he brought his girlfriend and parents to her birthday party. Our little girl loved being snuggled up in her father’s arms for the afternoon. If you genuinely leave the door open and make the child’s original parents feel welcomed, there is a good chance that one day they will come through that opening.

Leave Those Moms Alone

I don’t know these people and they are not the point.  Among the reforms I have learned about in the private Facebook group for original parents, adoptees and adoptive parents that I belong to, and one of their missions, is to support expectant mothers.  One of the reforms they advocate, and I agree with, is for the prospective adoptive parents NOT to be present in the delivery room during birth nor for the first few days after the birth.  The goal is for the new mother to bond with her baby and perhaps change her mind about giving the baby up for adoption.

The problem is the coercive effect of the adoptive parents’ presence on the new mother.  So it is today that I read the story of a hopeful adoptive mother and the problems that have occurred at the last minute in the new mother’s intention to give her baby up.  This is a teenage unwed mother who at the tender age of 15 had previously expressed a desire to go back to her pre-pregnancy life and be educated to become a nurse.  She also was not living with her parents, had been raped (perhaps by a family member) and did not believe her own mother was capable of helping her parent.

Flash forward to her difficult 3-day delivery and she informs the hopeful adoptive mother that she does NOT want her there because her mom (who opposes the adoption completely) is trying to help her through it and the new mother doesn’t want drama. She gave birth and due to the C-section, she is in the hospital for longer than expected.

Well, she begins to breastfeed the baby while in hospital and of course, breastfeeding does encourage the bonding of mother and child.  The result is that three days before the surrender papers are to be signed, the new mother has decided to parent.  The struggles of any new mother are temporary, placement is permanent, which is the message this Facebook group attempts to convey.

The result is a very mad hopeful adoptive mother who is blaming everyone from the social worker to the hospital to hormones and drugs and the immature age of the new mother and to the new grandmother as well for losing the “perfect baby-these don’t come by often” which echoes in my own mind like the words the Tennessee Children’s Home used to describe my mom to her adoptive parents.