It Actually Does Matter

I have known quite a few people who were not entirely happy with the family of their birth but those of us who have been touched by adoption lost the family of our birth. Some of us find our way back. Today’s blog is inspired by a story in Severance Magazine written by Kristen Steinhilber titled My Biology Matters. It Did All Along.

She writes – “It took me more than three decades of fairytale-oriented platitudes and assumptions thrown like bombs my way about adoption to piece together one very relevant thread: everyone who told me that biology doesn’t matter—including both sides of my own adoptive family—had intact bloodlines and genetic histories. And that what they were really saying, whether they meant to or not, was that my biology doesn’t matter.”

I encountered something like this as well. When I was first learning about my original families (both of my parents were adopted), I was attending a writer’s conference in St Louis when one of our members questioned me – If the adoptive family was good, why does it matter? As we talked, it slowly dawned on her that if she wanted to know, it would have been a fairly easy thing for her to learn as much as she wanted to know from her older family members. Not so for adoptees.

She goes on to write – “. . . withholding and secrecy—are encouraged in the world of adoption when it comes to the biology of adoptees. In fact, withholding and secrecy are legally enforced through sealed birth records. So when I found out, I assumed this was normal, understandable, or even maybe for my own good. My adoptive mother may have even believed that herself.” And adds, “since I’d always been told that adoption was such a gift, I didn’t feel I had the right to it. I pushed my own feelings away and suppressed what was in my gut.”

Even my adoptee mom, after being denied her adoption file and being told her mother was already dead, tried to put a good face on it all as she abandoned trying to do a family tree at Ancestry using the adoptive family details saying “it wasn’t real” and I understand that but needed to say at that point “because I was adopted, glad I was.” Though I doubt she really meant that, what else could she say at that point ?

She describes her experience of reunion – “I had a beautiful reunion with them for years and ‘fit’ naturally. Not in the same way that they fit with each other; that’s simply not possible when you miss out on all those years.” This has been my experience in having genetic biological relations reunions – I can feel these are really, truly the people who I am related to and at the same time I can’t make up for all of the years they were living their lives and I wasn’t in them. It affects my feelings towards the adoptive family I grew up with. I’m like my mom in very real ways – they aren’t real anymore, though at one time they were. The love remains for the good people they all were and are, yet they are also “strangers”, not actually related to me in reality. 

I understand it when she says, “The spiritual and psychological isolation of having two families but not belonging to either has ripped me from limb to limb . . .” That’s the painful part of it all. While I do now feel more “complete” and know my ethnic and familial roots, I don’t actually belong to either family group in any real way. It is actually very sad and only now do I allow myself to feel this, brought almost to tears by the truth of it. It is the sense of not belonging that plagues many adoptees and now I understand passes down the family line to their children as well.

She talks about the massive number of adoptees who stand in solidarity for adoption reform. At least, I am one of those now as well.

A Grief Deeper Than Death

For adoptees and their original families, mourning can be deeper than simply grieving the death of a loved one.  When our familial bonds are withheld from us so long, precious time is lost and never recovered.  In my mom’s case, when she sought and was denied her adoption file, the state of Tennessee told her that her original mother had died a few years earlier.  This devastated my mom and dashed all her hopes of a reunion.

With my dad, he never showed the  desire that my mom had but when he died a half-sister was living only 90 miles away and could have shared with him real impressions of the woman who gave birth to him.  When I discovered who his unwed mother’s participating lover was that conceived my dad, my dad was so much like him – sharing interests and appearance – I just knew they would have been great fishing buddies.  That was a sadness for me as well.

Today, I read the story of a man who was adopted.  His adoptive parents only admitted to his adoption when a sibling outed the fact.  They never would give him more than the tiniest bits and pieces of information to his incessant questions.  A letter his original mother wrote to him explaining her circumstances that was to be given to him upon his 18th birthday was not delivered to him until he had done an Ancestry DNA kit at the age of 30 and it was likely he was going to come into contact with his genetic relatives.

He was able to find and connect with his genetic sister through Facebook and through her be reunited with and visit with his original mother.  She died just last week after too brief of a time of acquaintance with her.  This has left him bereft for more reasons than her dying, which for anyone, regardless of the relationship they have with their parents, is admittedly a life-changing event.

His emotions are intense.  He says –

I’m angry for lack of a better word that my adoptive parents withheld this information for so long that it wound up costing me time. Time I could’ve used to get to know my biological mom better and form deeper bonds with her. I may not have known her well but I love her and I’m having a hard time navigating the complexity of everything that I’m feeling right now. My genetic sister and I have made a pact to talk often and visit with relative frequency. I simply don’t have this kind of relationship with my brother through adoption.

If you are an adoptive parent, it is beyond cruel if you behave in this manner.