Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Being Adopted...

That fact that my brother and I were adopted was never a secret in our house. My parents were very open about it. They COULD have kept it a secret and I never would have questioned it; that is, until I studied genetics in high school. They would have been hard pressed to explain away their blue eyes and connected ear lobes (I have neither). As a child I would proudly tell my friends that my mother had never had a baby, but yet she had 2 children. It was like my own personal riddle. Most of my friends never guessed the answer to that one, but once I told them, they would run home and tell their parents.

I never set out to be the root of all neighborhood gossip and I felt badly when my mother came to me and asked if I'd told little Sarah that I was adopted. (Her mother had called all full of probing questions...the woman had no self-censor.) My mother reminded me that while it wasn't a secret in our own family, she wished I wouldn't talk about being adopted with my friends. Mother didn't like thinking about the reasons why she and my father had turned to adoption to start their family and much preferred the harmless fiction of people assuming my brother and I had arrived in the "normal" fashion.

There was just one problem. I didn't FEEL normal. I had an imagination that was off the charts. It would get me in trouble in school because I would just drift away into my own head. I spent a lot of time wondering where my "other" mother was, what she was doing and if she ever thought about me. It didn't help that I was made to feel like I should simply be grateful that I was placed in a better environment than I probably would have had otherwise.

When I hit puberty, my personality underwent a pretty dramatic change. I became more withdrawn and sullen. I was full of resentment over what I felt was the excessive control my parents were trying to exert over my life. I blamed my parents for everything that was wrong and put them through the wringer. I was constantly on the brink of an emotional explosion and my parents caught most of the fallout.

In my most angry moments, I would yell about their past mistakes and dredge up every slight and hurt I could think of. I would THINK about telling them they were bad parents and that I bet my "real" mother would have been better than them. I didn't really think that. I just knew it would rip their hearts out to hear it. But I never crossed that line, even in my most angry moments.

I wasn't a bad teen, really. My rebellion was very mild compared with most other kids my age. Sure I missed a few curfews. Yes, I tried smoking. Yes, I dated a boy they didn't like and when they forbid me to see him, I would sneak around to be with him. But I never tried drugs. I never drank (not until college anyway). I was sort of a wimpy rebel.

At one point I asked my mother to reiterate all the information she had about my birth parents. She got very defensive and evasive. One of her deepest fears was that I would leave home to go on some insane search. Honestly, I was on the brink of running away from home a number of times, but I was too smart to follow through on the impulse. I just always had the feeling that my parents weren't telling me the whole story. They were keeping something from me.

Once again, my vivid imagination reared it's head and I had all kinds of horrible scenarios play out in my mind. My adoption wasn't legal, I was actually the victim of a kidnapping. I was the product of rape. I was abandoned in a bus station. I was a twin (or more) and my parents only wanted one child at a time, so my sibling went somewhere else. You name it, I thought of it.

My curiosity and my need to KNOW was overwhelming. No one really understood. Even my own brother, who was in the same boat as me, showed no curiosity whatsoever. He never expressed any interest in doing a search. Me? I would search the faces of people on the street looking for a resemblance and wonder if I would recognize a biological family member if I ever saw them.

In my 20s, I got busy with life in general. My search was always at the back of my mind, but I had more pressing issues. Finding an apartment, paying my bills, dealing with work pressures, and waiting for my long time boyfriend to finally pop the question.

Many years later, after being happily married for quite a while, we starting trying to have a family. Having a baby was VERY important to me. Not only was I eager to be a mother, but it would finally give me that biological tie to someone - a baby with my looks, brains and talent (stop laughing!). It would also enable me to give my mother the greatest gift of all, the experience of being in the delivery room to watch her grandchild being born. I knew missing that experience was one of the biggest disappointments of her life.

We were struck yet again by the fickle finger of fate. I had a host of female problems that made it impossible for me to conceive or carry a child. I was lucky in one respect. The devastation of infertility and the journey to adoption was not as big a stretch as it can be for some. Adoption as a way to start our family was always an option, right from the start. And that option worked out very well for us. I have two beautiful boys now, but there was still something missing.

I built a great relationship with the birth mothers of my boys. It made my heart glad to know that Tyler and Max would never face the uncertainty, curiosity and sense of loss that private adoption can foster. They would never have the same questions or feelings of disconnectedness that I always had. But at the same time, the joy I had in the openness and freedom of my new family only served to remind me of that missing piece of my soul. I wasn't a complete person.

Shortly after Tyler was born, I had a long conversation with my mother. She was fearful of open adoption and had a lot of concerns she wanted to voice. It was a great opportunity for me to explain my feelings to her. I think I finally made her understand how much the "not knowing" had hurt me over the years. How my birth family would always be a part of who I was and my joy in how that part would never be missing from my children. A short time later she handed me an envelope that would rock my world.

From the moment I was placed in their arms as an infant, my parents had also received a copy of some court documents that detailed the termination of my birth mother's rights. They looked at the documents once, and then sealed them away in a safe deposit box never to be spoken of again. I opened that ancient manila envelope and there, in black and white, was my birth mother's last name.

At first I was angry. My parents had been evasive about the agency I was adopted from. They had denied for decades that they had any additional information they could share. And yet, there it was. Hard evidence of their deception.

I got over my anger in time. I finally had something to go on. A name. With my husband's encouragement, I researched Kansas adoption law online and registered with a reunion registry (Adoption.com). I found out the agency that handled my adoption was still in business and contacted them. I contacted the state and requested a copy of my original birth certificate which revealed even more information about my birth mother. I requested information on doing a search and was sent all the forms I needed. You all know the rest of the story. The forms sat on my desk as I let everyday life keep me too busy to take that critical next step.

What I didn't know was that my bio-mom was also looking, and at around the same time I was. I had plugged her name into Google a few years ago just to see if there were any genealogical sites on the family name. There was just no way to be sure if who and what we found had any real relevance. I needed to bite the bullet and send in those forms. Goodness knows I didn't want to start calling every family with that last name in Kansas and the surrounding states in the hopes I would just get lucky. That kind of bull in a china shop approach just didn't feel right.

This was one of those times that my tendency to procrastinate finally paid off. She found me first. And with Google, no less.

I hope my "other" mother and her family have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I already got the best present I could have ever asked for. Thank you Liz. I am finally starting to feel whole.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had a friend from high school who was adopted. I also remember telling my own parents I was jealous of HER. She had parents who WANTED her! They CHOSE her.

That of course was being thrown out when I felt that I was being treated unfairly.

I never thought about the unknown that she might have been facing.

Wonderful entry, thank you for sharing this bit of your life with us.

Monica

Two Write Hands said...

You know as I was reading this, I was thinking--there's some kind of place for this to be published. A magazine or a "Chicken Soup" book or something. It's a good story, and it is written well. And it made me teary-eyed. (I hate admitting that, but I think you should know.) Thanks for sharing it with us.

Donna said...

Well now, that's just incredible!

jennifer said...

I actually "felt" your pain while reading this. But the beauty of the pain is that you are more equipped than anyone to insulate Ty and Max from the same anguish.

All is one with the universe, one might say.

Merry Christmas Becky. You're going to have a wonderful new year. I just feel it.

Anonymous said...

Becky... I can't imagine what this must mean to you m'dear, wonderful news :o) And she was thinking of you, and looking for you... that must do your heart good to know. Really pleased for you.
Sara xxx

BosieLadie said...

Becky, you've written this so well, and yes, I agree with a previous commenter, this should be published somewhere... maybe in adoption literature, so adoptive parents can make better decisions about talking to their adopted children. In the 60's, times were different, the world was not as open as it is now... I'm sure your parents felt they were doing their best. Knowing you have gotten the greatest Christmas present this year, I too am sure, your new year will be great! Merry Christmas.

thordora said...

What is it with brothers? Mine was actively hostile to the idea when I was looking for my birth family, and has no desire to find his. WHich always pissed me off since he has always had his full name, whereas I only had initials.

I found mine too, and while it didn't end that well, at least I figured out who I look like, and who I'm not.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful entry. I am glad you were found by your bio mom and are getting to know her. your experience will be a big help to your boys, they will never feel the pain you did.
My oldest son gave up his first born to adoption. It is an open adoption so he gets pictures once a year. It was the hardest thing I have ever been through, but I know he is happy, healthy and in a good home. I would wish that for every child in the world.
Barbara beckerb6@aol.com