Logic versus basic human emotion
How can something that makes complete logical sense still hurt so much? This is a constant battle in my mind and has been for most of my life. I knew I was adopted before I had any idea what the word even meant. I knew that it somehow made me different and I knew that I was the only one in the family who was this thing, “adopted.” For the first decade of my life, I thought little of it. I was blissfully unaware of everything being adopted meant. I was simply the youngest daughter in a family of six. I didn’t know that I had gone by a different name for the first month of my life. I didn’t know that my biological mother was a family member and that everyone else in the family knew who she was, but didn’t know when or exactly how to tell me.
Your life is so much better than it would have been! You must feel so lucky to have gotten to be part of such a great family. Aren’t you glad you weren’t raised by a single mother? You must have so much gratitude toward your parents for taking you in like that; they didn’t have to do what they did. You were adopted? I bet your parents left you in a dumpster because they didn’t want you. Oh wow, you’re adopted? I had no idea (like one can tell just by looking at me, that I am this thing, adopted). These are all things that have been said to me over the years, and while some may be well meaning, they are still hurtful. Logic again comes into play. Yes, for the most part these people don’t have a clue what they are saying is insensitive. But it perpetrates a message that an adoptee should only feel grateful and lucky, that their life is so much better than it would have been. The reality is, no one knows. But what needs to be known is that a trauma occurred and it’s a trauma that no one wants to talk about.
I was about two months away from turning 12 when I found out who she was. My grandfather passed away unexpectedly and my parents felt that the time was right, or that their hand was forced because of the circumstances. I think they were more afraid of some family member accidentally making a comment and me finding out that way. Over dinner, and I can still remember what we had to eat that night, they explained who my biological parents were. A blonde lady who I had only ever vaguely known as my cousin was now the woman who gave birth to me. My biological father was not in the picture and hadn’t been since just after I was born. The people who had raised me as mom and dad were biologically my great aunt and uncle. Everything that had once been simple and straightforward was now complex and confusing and the extenuating circumstances did not allow me any time to process this information. The funeral was a few days later and we were flying out the next day.
Children are prone to saying things and not having any idea the true meaning behind their words. They are not old enough or mature enough to grasp serious situations. They do not fully understand what the word adoption means. Does that make the comment from a kid in my fifth grade class hurt any less? I’m now 26 and it still makes my jaw clench. “I bet your parents left you in a dumpster because they didn’t want you.” It’s like a knife to the heart. There are some things that are impossible to get out of your head. Logically, I know that boy had no idea just how hurtful his words were. Yes, he was trying to be mean, as kids will be, but I would like to think he wouldn’t have said that if he knew how it would stick with me for the rest of my life. While the words seemed simple enough said by a fifth grader, the implication they carried was not. What do people do with things they do not want? They throw them out. The things that end up in the trash, or the dumpster, are discarded items. Useless items. Unwanted, unloved, unneeded. As a fifth grader, logic wasn’t at the forefront of my thinking when processing that comment. At least not the kind of logic that would dismiss it as childish and trivial. In my mind, it meant that being adopted was equated to being left in a dumpster and that was equated to be unwanted, unneeded and unloved. Even now, when I do have the mental capacity to dismiss it as a nasty kid mouthing off, it still gets to me.
The week of my grandfather’s funeral remains one of the most difficult times in my life. I had a bombshell dropped on me and was then expected to know how to handle it in the company of my entire family and extended relatives, who already knew what I had just found out. Many members of the family did not know that I now had this information. I was tested by someone, who referred to other family members using their biological title, and not what they were to me through adoption, which is of course all I had know them as until a few days prior. I was 11 and had to cope with being tested by a family member to see how much I knew of my own adoption. Just like the comment from a fifth grader, there are some things that stick with you forever. I had no idea how I should act in front of this woman whom I now knew had given birth to me and then given me away. Should I have felt anger, resentment or hurt? I don’t know. I know I felt like she was always watching me. It seemed like all eyes in the family were on me, watching and waiting to see how I would act.
Fast forward 15 years. I’ve now become immersed in a network of fellow adoptees. Prior to doing some research online, I had known only one or two others who were adopted and had never had any conversations with them. I know that in this network I am considered one of the “lucky ones” to have had an open adoption. I know that some adoptees spend years trying to find their biological parents and some never do find them. I know that open adoptions are becoming the way things are done. I am realizing that being from an open adoption is something that is somewhat unique within the adoption world and that people want to hear what we have to say. This is just some of my story, of what I have gone through as an open adoption/in family adoptee. Is it perhaps easier to cope with, knowing who my biological mother is? I don’t know. I do know that it’s difficult knowing who she is but always having to hold her at an arm’s length, so as not to upset my adopted family. I do know that I carry a burden of responsibility to ensure the happiness of everyone involved in the triad. I do know that I try, with great angst at times, to please everyone even while knowing that someone is going to get hurt and that it will most likely be me. I do know that I feel guilty for being the cause of so much tension in the family simply because I was born.
Logically, I know that I have an amazing family with two parents and siblings. Logically, I know they love me and don’t think nearly as much about my adoption as I do. Logically, I know that my parents tried to raise me in the best way that they could. Logically, I am grateful to them for having taken me in and raised me as one of their own. At the level of basic human emotion, I also know that my mother chose to give me away. That she chose a college and career over being a single mother. That she saw me as the product of a failed marriage and didn’t want the burden of raising a child on her own. That she wanted me to have a better life than the one she thought she could offer, but couldn’t fully cut the ties. That she made the situation more tension-filled for everyone involved by keeping it in family. That even now, our relationship is still on her terms and that she hasn’t ever made an effort to fully get to know me, or to have an in depth conversation about giving me up for adoption.
So, is open adoption easier? Is it less painful? Is it the “right way” to go about adoption? I don’t know. I just hope to provide one adoptee’s perspective on it.