From an article in Severance magazine.
Growing up as an adoptee, I frequently fielded questions from friends and strangers alike. “Do you know who your real mother is?” “Do you think you look like your parents?” “What [ethnicity] are you?” The first two questions were easy to answer: My mother is my real mother. No, I don’t look like either of them. But the third question hounded me my whole life. It speaks to a universal quest to identify with a group. And it speaks to the need of others to figure out who we are. For an adoptee, another question swirls around in the mix: Are we valid?
On one hand, our identity is who we believe we are, and on the other it’s who others believe us to be. In essence, the identity question is two-part: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who do you think I am?’ Adopted or not, we work to reconcile our personal vision of who we are versus who others believe we are. Yet when you’re adopted, there’s an added layer. For me, and I imagine for many adoptees, there’s a struggle to answer the question ‘Who are you?’ When others challenge our identity because of our adoption status, it’s difficult enough; but it’s further complicated by the fact that we have incomplete information about our genetic roots and, therefore, we can’t answer. And even when we get that information, we’re still left wondering how others view us.
Now my story –
I’ve been going through 30-40 years of saved clutter, old letters to and from family members, etc. Yesterday I found my OMNI Berkeley Personality Test results. One does this for their own self and asks some people close to them to do it regarding that person’s perspectives on one’s personality. I had my husband, my daughter, my two sisters, my parents and my in-laws all do this for me back in the early 1990s. Then one compares how one sees one’s self with how other see them. It does give great insights.
I knew that both of my parents were adopted. Since finally learning who all 4 of my grandparents were so late in life (after the age of 60), I’ve also been reading and learning as much as I can about the effects of adoption on adoptees as well as on their descendants. Much of that learning I’ve been sharing in this blog.
No doubt, adoptees have all sorts of reasons for discovering their birth or genetic backgrounds. My mom felt compelled to try to connect with her birth mother but by the time she made the effort, it was too late. Her mother had already been dead for several years leaving my mom devastated. The state of Tennessee wouldn’t release her adoption file to her at that time because they could not determine the status of her birth father who had actually been dead for 30 years (they really didn’t try very hard). It’s a pity because in her adoption file that I now possess was a picture of her mother holding her for the last time before she was taken to be adopted.
In the Severance article, she writes – “I projected her need to know about the baby she’d given up, basing that assumption only on my own feelings toward my children—trying to imagine how a woman could part with her child. I thought perhaps she might want to know that I’d had a good life.” This is so much like my mom’s own explanation of her need to know. My own reason to do the search was to learn the truth about my own ethnic identity. Simply being “American” as my mom once told me because due to adoption they didn’t know, didn’t cut it for me. It is surprising how important in our melting pot of a country, there is still so much emphasis on our ethnic heritage. It was my public school girl days friends making a big deal about theirs that made me feel like something important was missing in my own life. Even the Census forces you to record some ethnicity other than American.
I am so glad to know today about my Danish paternal grandfather, my Scottish maternal grandmother and all of the English and Irish parts of me. I’m less fond of the strong streak of Confederates in my maternal line but grateful my Yankee paternal grandmother and that Danish paternal grandfather balance my karma out in that respect. I’ve certainly had fun exploring the traditions and places where my DNA originated. It is amazing how often Denmark turns up in my life before I even knew I had that culture in my background.