Now that school is out and we have 10 interns helping our photography business grow, I’ve finally had a chance to breathe…and share with y’all my adoption reunion story.
I was adopted at birth – well, 2 weeks after, to be exact. I spent the first 2 weeks with a foster mom who called me Heather and gave a very detailed letter to my parents that included my eating, sleeping, and pooping habits and an astute observation of my personality – which, oddly enough, still holds true to this day: inquisitive, energetic, alert.
I grew up knowing I was adopted. My parents told me from a young age; they read the “Why Was I Adopted?” book to me over and over, and slowly I digested what that meant. When we adopted my little brother, I realized just how awesome adoption could be – especially on the receiving end. One day I didn’t have a brother, and then suddenly – I did. We went to pick him up at the lawyer’s office and they placed a little wrinkly baby in my arms that we would get to keep forever. I instinctively felt protective of him. I transformed from a lonely only to a big sister, virtually overnight. At the age of 7 (and a half!), I didn’t think about things like attachment, bonding, or even where my brother came from. All I cared about was that I had a little brother.
There was no question in my mind as to whether or not he was a part of our family. He was. He was meant to be my little brother. And thinking back, I would say our bond was instantaneous. They put him in my arms, he grabbed my finger, and I knew he was my brother. I’m not sure how it was for my parents, but I’d wager it was the same for them. Likely, it would’ve been different if he had come into our lives when he was older, but he was a cute, tiny newborn and he needed us. And we needed him. And this gave me a much deeper understanding of adoption than any book ever could.
Most days, I didn’t even think about being adopted. It was just a fact of my life. My family was my family, and adoption was just the method I got there. But as I got older, I started exploring my thoughts about adoption some more. Friends would ask me, “Do you ever think about your real parents?” which always confused me because my parents were my “real” parents. But it made me realize that our family was different from my friends’ families. Once, frustrated that my parents wanted me to watch my brother when I wanted to go over to a friend’s house, I shouted, “Why should I? He’s not my REAL brother.” Um, yeah. Not my proudest moment. Did I mean what I said? Heck, no! I truly never felt the he wasn’t my real brother. I was just trying to push buttons, to strike that nerve in my parents, thinking erroneously this would somehow let me get my way. I regretted saying it the moment it left my lips, even before I saw my mom’s face fall. Ouch. There are few worse feelings than wounding someone with angry words.
But as I moved into my moody and awkward middle school years, I did think more about where I came from and who might share my DNA. And then in high school, as I thought about being a mother myself one day, I wondered what it must have been like for my own young birthmother to give me away. I was sure that it must have been painful – I never felt that there was any nonchalance on her part about making the decision to place me for adoption. I intuitively felt that she must have cared about me. She took great care of herself when she was pregnant – I was a healthy, active baby. And still, in spite of knowing this, in spite of the sympathy I felt for her incredibly difficult decision, in spite of the gratitude I felt for having a loving, supportive family… there was that teeny, tiny part of me that felt abandoned.
Sure, all the adoption literature will say that’s normal. But rationally, it’s not. As emotional a creature as I am, I do have my rational side. And I get frustrated when my emotions don’t listen to my logic. I tried rationalizing that unwanted/abandoned feeling away for years. Not an easy thing to do when you are a shy and self-conscious teenager, feeling that no one in the world can possibly understand what it’s like to be you. “My parents don’t GET me. I’m ugly. I’m weird. I don’t fit in. School is stifling my spirit. No one takes me seriously.” For many high schoolers, those are some pretty common thoughts/feelings. But you don’t realize it at the time. And if you have these lingering feelings of abandonment, no matter how irrational they might be, those feelings make it easier to justify the untruth. Of course my birthmother didn’t want me, I’m an ugly, awkward freak! And now my parents are stuck with me cuz adoption is forever, but I sure bet they wish they could trade me in for a prettier, more popular/mainstream child.
Those aren’t very fun thoughts to carry around, are they?
Luckily for me, I also knew that I was, in fact, loved and cared about in spite of my feelings of freakishness. I had awesome and supportive friends who nurtured and encouraged my “weird” side (I’m not really THAT weird – I just felt that way). I had parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who all showed their love for me and never did or said anything to make me feel I wasn’t a legitimate part of the family. So those thoughts stayed in the background. I didn’t walk around in a state of depressed self-loathing, not by a long shot. In fact, ask most people who knew me growing up and they’ll describe me much like I am today – cheerful, happy, overly enthusiastic, a tad bit eccentric. That’s me. I didn’t truly feel unwanted or unlovable – 99% of the time. But once in a while, when I was having a tough day or feeling particularly insecure, those thoughts would creep up to the forefront, and I’d have to spend a day alone… first crying and steeping in self-pity and unlovableness, then thinking about what my birthmom must have gone through when she was scared and pregnant and not able to keep me, and then I’d be able to rationalize those thoughts away and get my self-worth back.
I don’t have to do that anymore.
Now I know, without a single doubt, that my birthmother DID want me and love me. Yes, I know, DUH, Of Course she did. But there IS something different about hearing her say it, feeling the love she has for me, seeing her pride in how I’ve turned out. It’s that rational part of me – as great as it was for chasing those negative and untrue thoughts away, it would also play Devil’s Advocate on days when I felt especially insecure…. “But how do you KNOW she wanted you? What proof do you have?” And I didn’t have any tangible proof. I had no idea who my birthmother really was. Perhaps she did just give me up without a second thought. Perhaps there was something about me that made her unable to love me. Now, had that been the case, I would’ve gotten through it – because I do have a family who loves me.
Not everyone is so lucky. There are some pretty terrible parents out there. But I got good ones. And if I happened to find my birthmother, and she told me she didn’t want anything to do with me, that she never wanted me, that I wasn’t worthy of her time or affection…. yeah, that would’ve hurt… but I would have been ok, thanks to all the wonderful amazing friends and family who heap their love on me on a regular basis. And, even more than that, I would have KNOWN. For sure. One way or the other. No more questions. No more back-and-forth conversations in my head.
But I’m even more blessed than I imagined, and it turns out that she is thrilled to know me, that she has always thought about me, that she loves me fiercely, and that she has a whole family of folks who are excited to know me. I have a new sister! And brother! And grandparents and cousins! And so a new journey has begun, with new family to get to know, and even more love to be shared.
Of course, purging the feeling of abandonment wasn’t the only reason I wanted to find my birthmother – it wasn’t even the main reason. It was just an added benefit, really. In my adult years, those insecure thoughts haven’t really been cropping up. So I forgot about all the times in my teenage and college years I grappled with feeling unwanted or abandoned. What I did think more and more about was what my birthmother went through, and how that might have impacted her life. I thought about having kids of my own, and how, were I to give my kid up, I would always wonder about her and hope that she was happy and loved. And I wanted to let my birthmother know that I was OK. More than OK, I was fantastic. So I decided to reach out, to give her the chance to hear from me and – if she wanted – the chance to know me.
I met Debi for the first time in January. She lives 10 minutes down the street from me. We share physical features, hand gestures, interests, and a sense of adventure. It’s been awesome and surreal getting to know her, her children, her parents. Do I wish I hadn’t been adopted? No way. I wouldn’t trade my family in for the world. But I wouldn’t trade finding Debi and her family, either. I get the best of both worlds, the nature and the nurture. I can’t say that one is better than the other – they are different and wonderful in their own ways. I have two families that love me. And if you count Mark’s family, too, I actually have THREE families. And then my super close friends whose families I have been unofficially adopted in to…well…I actually have five families, then. There is no shortage of love in my life.
I had no idea what would come of the search and reunion process. It’s been SO much better than I ever expected – an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’ve made new friends through the Adoption Reunion support group – folks who genuinely know what it’s like to be adopted, to give up a child, to get a child. I’ve found new family members who have been so open and welcoming, eager to get to know me. I’ve been touched by the support, encouragement, and excitement of my friends and family as I dealt with the nervousness of searching, and of meeting Debi and her family for the first time. I graduated from grad school with both of my moms sitting in the audience, side by side.
Lucky, blessed, grateful… appreciated, wanted, loved… I am all of this and more. To everyone who has supported me along the way – thank you. Your love and enthusiasm means more than you know.