Six Things This Adoptee is Thankful For – #NAAM

It’s been a while. Trust me, though, not a day goes by without me thinking about adoption. The healing continues. My strength grows, and sometimes wanes, but overall, it’s a journey that never ends.

I’ve taken a break from some adoptee-centric groups and forums, for my own mental peace. We have to find our own space in this complex adoption community. I have several great friends that I’ve met over the years–adoptees and first-mothers–who have nurtured me through the healing process, and I hope I have been there in a meaningful way for them, as well.

I’ve been wanting to write something for #NAAM (National Adoption Awareness Month), and I’ve decided to meld my thoughts about adoption/adoptee awareness with Thanksgiving. Being “grateful” is a touchy subject for most adoptees. But honestly, being thankful or grateful is nothing to be ashamed of. So, here goes.

1. Normalcy; a Fair Childhood.

My parents did their best in the 1960s to raise my adoptive brother (no relation) and me. They weren’t perfect. Neither were we. They believed in the “blank slate” theory they were fed when they adopted us. That’s not what they got. Oh, hell no. Surprise! It wasn’t bonding. It was survival mode. My dad worked; he was hardly around when we were children. My mom stayed at home, but she was distant. Oh, so distant. I know now that my experience with my mother wasn’t unique. But, I survived. My brother and I had a discussion about this recently. We have no complaints about our childhood. But when we look back, we look through a lens of knowledge. Knowledge about how adoption affected us. Knowledge about the trauma and the fear and our individual coping mechanisms. We did okay. Well-adjusted, as they say.

2. The 1970s.

Back in the 1970s, parents did not even think twice about things like UV rays, weird grown-ups/strangers lurking around every corner, the dark, etc. Parents allowed their kids to play outdoors, away from the front yard, as long as they wanted without even keeping an eye on them. My mom even sent me, on occasion, barefoot, on my bright pink banana-seat bike, to the local liquor store to pick up a carton of cigarettes for her. I would buy some Bottlecaps or Gobstoppers for myself with the change. And, remember this? “It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your kids are?” It was an actual commercial that played on the television networks at 10 o’clock every night, reminding our parents that they actually had responsibilities! My best friend’s mom used to have an alarm set between The Love Boat and Fantasy Island to remind her to go outside and yell for her kids to come home! We were allowed, and encouraged, to explore. It was an opportunity, however dangerous, to discover our identities. I had a great time in the 1970s with my friends.

3. Roe v. Wade

At age 17, I could have been destined to a fate similar to my birth mom’s. What could I do? I found myself pregnant at age 17. Thankfully, a good friend of mine had already gone through an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion, so I had someone to lean on for advice. Who knows what I would have done without knowing someone close to me who had gone through it previously? I never told my mother. I only told that one friend. My boyfriend, luckily, had a job at a local mini-mart, so we were able to pay for the procedure. We were just children. I am sad for younger self. I have no conscious memory of that day.

4. Traveling Abroad

I put myself through college. I went to the local state university in my hometown. I’m thankful to have had that opportunity so close to home. I worked 20-30 hours per week and carried a full course-load each semester. It wasn’t easy, but I was determined. I don’t know why I had such ambition-no one in my (adoptive) family had gone to college. I lived at home and worked and commuted to school. It was a grind. For my senior year, I was determined to go big. I applied for a study-abroad program to study politics in the United Kingdom. I was accepted! I spent nearly a year in Yorkshire, England, at the University of Bradford. It was magical in so many ways. Living away from home and in a foreign country allowed me to discover who I really was, away from the influence of my adoptive family and without the constraints of what people expected of me. I could be who I wanted. Who I really was. I could question things. It was truly a journey of self-discovery. The experience moved me to search for my biological family. To discover my true identity. 

5. The Advancement of DNA

In 2015, I submitted my spit to the company 23andMe. Not so much to find relatives (I had already found my bio mom in the 1980s via prison records, and she refused to meet me or have any type of ongoing correspondence), but to find out about any health concerns. I thought it might be a good idea to find out if I should be concerned about anything healthwise as I approached middle-age. Thankfully, DNA testing revealed a clean bill of health. But that’s not all. It gave me my biological father. It also allowed me to connect with aunts, uncles, and other relatives on my bio mom’s side. So, even though she wasn’t willing to acknowledge me, other family members willingly spoke with me and gave me some answers to the questions about my bio mom and her family that had haunted my heart for years.

6. A Connection

My bio dad and I enjoyed a heartfelt reunion. I didn’t expect much, because he didn’t even know I existed (not to mention the experience with bio-mom), but I was able to convince him, with the help of DNA, that I was, indeed, his daughter. I helped him connect with his own father’s legacy (my grandfather!), and family members that he didn’t even know existed. It was satisfying and for a while, magical. I know he loves me. And I love him. But real connection and family are tricky things for adoptees. We share no history of conscious memory. And we live nearly 1300 miles apart. 

The issues after reunion have to do with information learned on both sides that may be disconcerting to the other party….and this is the period where that information starts to sink in….and the emotions attached to that information start to come into play. My bio dad finding out about my mere existence was a shock to him. Any memory of my bio mom still evades him. And I know that bio mom’s secondary rejection of me haunts him. He has never reached out to her (I don’t blame him). 

More importantly, the information and revelations I was able to provide to him about his beginnings and his own father and mother (my grandparents!) I’m sure affected him even more. He’s told me more than once that all of these discoveries in his seventies (about me, his parents) have transformed him as a person and although he has a better understanding of “why he is the way he is” (his words), he struggles with questions that will never be fully answered. So here is my father, nearly eighty years old, struggling with his identity, even though he has lived a full, successful and colorful life. I’m nearly sixty and I absolutely know how he feels. There is still an unbreakable connection between us, even though we don’t see each other or talk often. Our souls are forever connected by the threads of adoption, family lies, and ties.

Adoption is Everywhere – It Cannot Hide (Or Can It?)

I have a friend. She is older than me. Old enough to be my mother, in fact. She knows my story. She knows that I was adopted, that I was born in prison, that I struggled with my identity in my youth, and that I was cruelly rejected by my biological mother when I searched and found her over thirty years ago. She knew I continued to struggle over the years with feelings of anguish and inadequacy after the rejection from my birthmother, and that I wondered constantly about my biological origins. She listened sympathetically and supported me fully (or so I thought) as the story of finding my biological father unfolded.

After over twenty years of friendship, and me spilling my guts about my crazy adoptee-centric issues (closed records, lies, shame, rejection, fantasies, social media, stalking family members, DNA, family trees, etc.), my friend dropped a bombshell. A big one. One night, after a couple glasses of wine and talking about everything and nothing at all, she confessed: “I gave a child up for adoption the same year you were born. My daughter would be just a few months older than you.”

Uh . . . what!? I was dumbfounded. After picking my jaw up off the table and consciously unknitting my brow, I took a big gulp of wine.

At first, I was sympathetic. She told me she was shunned by her own mother and father and sent away to live with a relative during her pregnancy. She described being shamed by her family for being pregnant at eighteen and how she was coerced into relinquishing her daughter.

I think at this point I was uncorking another bottle of wine.

I asked her if she had ever heard from her daughter or from anyone on her behalf. She said no. I asked her if she had ever tried looking for her daughter. She said no. She went on to explain that through the years she “made sure” that if her daughter was looking for her, she had done everything she could to make herself “easy to find.” It sounded like she was simply waiting to be found.

I asked her if she wanted help finding her now. She said, “If my daughter wanted to find me, she could have. And she hasn’t.”

There were tears and more drunken talk . . . and when my friend left that night, I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry for her daughter out there somewhere. I wanted to do something about it, but it wasn’t my thing to do anything about.

That was nearly five years ago. Over time, I’ve given my friend’s situation a lot of thought. We’ve had a few discussions about it . . . but each time I bring it up, I get hit with, “You just don’t understand!” Really? Or, “Quit trying to push your agenda on me.” We end up frustrated and upset with each other. Now we don’t talk about it. It’s like this awful, sad, secret, adopted elephant in the room. Our friendship has suffered.

I don’t get it. She’s successful, retired, single, and has a grown son. Now that she’s retired she throws herself into volunteer work, which includes helping orphans in Mexico and mentoring foster children in her own community. As for the mentoring, she’s actually been mentoring foster kids for years—even before she was retired. I had always admired that she gave so much of herself to these motherless kids, but now I’m seeing it in a different light. In my mind, it’s like she’s trying to make up for orphaning her daughter. Of course, I shouldn’t assume this.

And about her being always “out there” to find . . . I’m not so sure she’s been truthful about “not hiding.” When she finally joined Facebook, she used a fake name. That’s kind of a big deal. Social media is one of the easiest ways for adoptees to track people down these days.

Of course, my assumption of her reluctance to be found makes me think of my own biological mother. She absolutely didn’t want to be found. That hurt. Now I have this friend who is behaving in a way that I believe is hurtful. I don’t think she’s dealing with her own emotions about relinquishing her child so many years ago. Maybe I’m wrong.

Anyway, it’s not my thing. It’s hers. I’ll continue to advocate—adoptees need to be heard. Birthmothers, too. Some just aren’t ready.

My birthmother didn’t want to be found, either, but I found her anyway. Read my story, The Lies That Bind, An Adoptee’s Journey of Rejection, Redirection, DNA, and Discovery

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Release Your Truth . . . Find Your Strength

If you follow my blog (or any other adoption-centric blog or group), you already know it’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). And you probably know that adoptees are making a concerted effort to switch the focus of the awareness to the people involved in adoption that matter the most: THE ADOPTEE.

It’s complicated. Most adoptees, at one point or another, deal with one or more of the following confounding issues:

  • loss of family (even if he or she gained a “good one” through adoption)
  • unknown or confused heritage
  • unknown health history
  • sealed records
  • family secrets
  • lies (sometimes)

And these issues often lead to anxiety, identity confusion, depression, low self-esteem, and more.

It helps to know and talk with other adoptees experiencing the same issues. It helps to bring your fears out into the open and deal with them. Release your truth and you will find your strength.

Last March, I attended the Indiana Adoptee Network‘s Annual Conference . What an eye-opener. It was fantastic to be with such a large group of people who just “get it.” While I was there, I was lucky enough to meet a woman who truly understands the power of opening up. She wrote a book about it. And guess what? She’s not an adoptee. She’s a birth mother (or “first mother,” if you prefer). I love what she’s done–for birth mothers and adoptees. And for anyone else holding in the pain of a traumatic event.

Shoebox Cover

In her book, The Shoebox Effect, Marcie Keithley tells the heart-wrenching story of relinquishing a child for adoption and how it affected her life and the lives of her family. As an adoptee, Marcie’s story helped me to understand the heart of a young mother suffering through her quiet desperation during a difficult time.

But, Marcie goes beyond just story-telling in her book. Marcie wants us all to open our hearts—and our shoeboxes—to let out the secrets and explore the truths within. There is healing in sharing. There is freedom and peace in understanding why we pack away and hide what hurts us. Marcie’s book offers a guide of sorts at the end of each chapter, to help us coax out our own secrets and unpack the shame, guilt, and unresolved grief. I wish my own birth mother would read this book . . .

Too often, we go through life as intimate strangers with the people we love. We avoid certain topics in fear they might open up a Pandora’s Box, so we take an opposing approach. Many of us stuff reminders of those topics inside shoeboxes or other containers, in hopes we can hide the situation away. But this is a mistake. –Marcie Keithley, The Shoebox Effect

This book is not just for birth mothers and adoptees. It’s for anyone who is hiding away bits and pieces (or big ol’ chunks) of his or her life in the hopes of avoiding difficult feelings. I highly recommend actively reading this book!

Marcie’s book, The Shoebox Effect, Transforming Pain Into Fortitude and Purpose, will be released November 12. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

Click on the links here if you’re interested in learning more about the Indiana Adoptee Network and the Indiana Adoptee Network 4th Annual Conference.

Be Aware: Read an Adoptee Story

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). Traditionally, this month is promoted by states, communities, public and private organizations, businesses, families, and individuals by celebrating adoption as a positive way to build families. Celebrations include activities and observances across the nation, public awareness and recruitment campaigns, and special events to promote the false narrative of the fairy tale of adoption.

I understand that there are orphans and foster kids out there with complicated or troubled families of origin that need permanent homes. I know that adoption has a place in our society. It’s just that it needs to be taken out of the spotlight as a fairy tale solution for the childless. In addition, by celebrating the fairy tale of adoption and ignoring its complexities, we continue to drive a billion-dollar, for-profit adoption industry. This is an industry that exploits the desires of childless couples or other people that have an “itch” to raise or “save” a child. This is an industry that also exploits pregnant, confused young women.

The unavoidable truth and the crux of adoption complexity is that it necessitates the undoing of one family so that another one can come into being or add to its brood. The singular most important fact about adoption is that it causes trauma, loss, and grief for both the biological mother (and often for others in the original family) and the adoptee. And most importantly, the fairy tale narrative of adoption denies adoptees the acknowledgement and support necessary to process their experiences across a lifetime. Because being adopted is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

I have a friend who adopted a toddler from a Russian orphanage (before the 2013 ban by Russia of the country’s children by U.S. families). He’s now a teenager. She’s a fabulous mom and her son is a smart, socially well-adjusted kid. We were talking and the subject of adoption came up (I was probably updating her on my crazy adoption journey). I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I used the word “adopted” to describe her son. She corrected me. She said, “He was adopted.” She emphasized the past tense and went on to explain that she didn’t use that word to describe her son. He’s simply “her son.” I get that. And I certainly didn’t mean to offend her. But the words “adopted” and “adoptee” aren’t bad words. At least they shouldn’t be. I felt the need to gently explain to my friend that her son is adopted and will always be an adoptee. He certainly doesn’t need to wear it as a badge of honor, but the fact that he is adopted and there is another family out there that he belongs to just as he belongs to her family, needs to be acknowledged. He may have feelings and emotions about it that he wants to talk about. He may have questions about his heritage and ethnicity. She should acknowledge that it is and will always be a part of his identity.

I cannot begin to describe all of the complexities of being adopted. It is a complex journey and different for every adoptee. Depending on the adoptee, it may involve searching for biological family. It may involve reunion. It may not. It may involve sadness, loneliness and depression. I hope not, but statistics do indicate that adoptees far outnumber non-adopted youth in all types of psychiatric treatment facilities. Some adoptees may feel like they have, in fact, lived a fairy tale life with their adopters. That’s great, too, but I hope there is some support out there for every adoptee when and if it is needed.

In the end, we all need to realize that at the center of every adoption is the adoptee. And I’m all about adoptee stories. I want to hear them all. I’ve read many of the adoptee memoirs out there (and still reading!). Take some time to read an adoptee story. Take some time to understand the heart of an adoptee. Celebrate National Adoption Awareness this way.

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