Same shit... different pile

The following is a guest post from my sister. We are both adopted into one family but have different biological families.

After a long conversation with my sister about adoption -- a subject of mutual interest, obviously--I agreed to write something for her blog. Then my brain froze. Do I argue about psychological implications? Debate opinions? Offer up my “what ifs” along with other adoptees and birth parents who wonder what other turns life could have taken? Finally, I decided to tell my own story.

Like my sister, I always knew I was adopted. I had always been told that I was loved, but that my birth mother couldn't look after me or keep me, so she gave me away to my adoptive mother and father, who loved children very much, but were sad that she couldn't have any herself. As a generous-minded child at four or five, always happy to share my toys, that made sense to me, and I accepted it happily. I was told that my arrival was a dream come true, and I had been chosen from among all those other babies in the hospital. Whether or not parents really could choose their adopted infants like you choose a new pair of shoes isn't important—what matters is that's how they told the story to me, and that's how I felt.

In my late teens and early twenties, I became more aware of the social issues of the late 1950s that would have been part of my birth mother's situation, including the challenges and pressures faced by an unwed mother with no family or financial support. I wanted to be able to tell her that I was fine, grew up loved, happy, educated, and bore no resentment. I wanted to reassure her that I was okay with her decision.

When I decided to search for my birth mother, I chose to use the official channels of Child and Family Services. Bureaucratic, yes, but providing a layer of privacy and protection for both sides, in case my birth mother didn't want that part of her life revisited, or in fact, if she turned out to be someone I didn't want in my life! Through a couple of astounding coincidences, CFS managed to contact my birth mother quickly and easily, even though she wasn't registered for contact through CFS. The first “supervised” exchange of letters was wonderful, and soon, on our own, we were talking on the phone and writing to fill in details.

Eventually, I traveled to the US to meet her. It was a short, intense visit. Part of it felt like meeting family—our shared tastes and interests and activities. Part of it was dull and felt like visiting someone you didn't know well—waiting, trying to figure things out, and feeling left out. But it answered a lot of questions for me that I had carried with me for a long time. Who did I look like? Because she had few family ties, we couldn't go back very far into her family, but I look a lot like her (for better or worse) and share many other characteristics. How strange that even as “responsible adults,” many of us look for an answer to “where did I come from/where did that trait come from?”

I was also able to hear about the first few days of my life before my adoption. I had read the literature, and knew that being unwanted, unloved, unconnected to a mother's warmth during those first few crucial hours and days could lead to unresolved feelings of abandonment, of unworthiness, of not belonging--although what child growing up didn't encounter those at some point, at some level, as passing fear or a deep conviction? I, too, had struggled with these feelings growing up. But I couldn't blame my birth mother, who could not keep and raise me in spite of her love for me; or my adopted mother who wanted to bring me home and cuddle me the day that my parents learned I had been born, but couldn't because of the adoption process of the time, requiring a few weeks in hospital, as well as time for the adoption process papers to become finalized.

After meeting my birth mother, I learned that the reality of my first few days contradicted any trauma-inducing circumstances. I had been born with a name; it was on my certification of adoption. My birth mother had me named for her sister, and her one close friend at school. I was born with connections and history. And contrary to usual practises of the time, my birth mother was allowed to hold me, and cuddle me, and no doubt whisper things into my baby ears. I was wanted (I had two mothers), I was loved, and had been since before I was born. So much for my “abandonment” being the source of my insecurities growing up, as I tried to do no less than understand the world.

Another step on the evolution of my view of adoption was acknowledging the other half of the argument of “you're not my real parents”--because, of course, my real parents would have a house in the country with horses, cook gourmet vegetarian food, play the harp, and paint, and write beautiful poems all day. (Instead, my adoptive family lived in the suburbs, ate Sunday roast dinners, tuned the radio to middle of the road pop music and gave each other Hallmark birthday cards.)

One day, I looked at the woman who had been my mother since she first unwrapped the bundle that would need feeding and cleaning for so many years, and I realized the dreams of delicate femininity she had held for me, her first daughter! I would be graceful and ladylike and maternal, and we would shop for clothes together, and have facials and beauty treatments, and fuss over our hair, plan a lovely wedding one day, and choose names for her grandchildren, and I would cherish all her family recipes. Instead, I live “unmarried and childfree” nearly fifteen hundred miles from home, a tube of mascara lasts me for two years, my favorite shoes are all-weather, no-nonsense walking shoes, she is finally admiring my very grey, undyed long hair, and I have kept two of her recipes. When I compared her ideals with the reality of what she unwrapped that day so long ago, I laughed out loud. Although I failed to mesh with the plans she had for me, she never declared, “you're not my real daughter!” How lucky for me! She got what she got, and I got what I got, and we worked it out from there.


Pick on someone your own size

I admit it, at the moment I'm addicted to reading blogs and forums. It's not helping me focus on my original plan for this blog but that's ok, I know I'll get there eventually.

So in my internet travels I've come across some very articulate and thoughtful young people who are struggling with their teen years. This in itself isn't notable, everyone has been there. It's the additional burden of adoption these particular young people carry that sets them apart, that makes their teen years even more challenging. If adoption was part of any of my peer's lives when I was a kid, I wasn't aware of it. Several family members, sibling and cousins, were adopted and I knew of one aunt that had given up a baby but none of my school friends were affected by adoption, that I knew of anyway. The fact that it was all around me in my family likely helped normalize it for me and as I've stated before I don't know about anyone of importance ever making any of us adoptees feel like we didn't belong, that we weren't family, that we weren't "real". I say all of this because not only was I not exposed to any significant real life examples of adoption gone wrong, I was also not exposed to the internet.

I shudder to think how this adoption blog and forum society would have messed with the "teen me". It's messes with me now! I read and react, sometimes comment, most times refrain. Some people take care reacting to what I say, many don't. I watch others post and comment and then deal with the backlash if what they've said isn't well received. I see bullying, tunnel vision, words that are twisted, a poorly worded sentence in a multi paragraph post attacked, and I see intimidation, all of which are part and parcel of this way of communicating and if you put yourself out there it's a risk you run. I know this, and I can take it. My issue is, what is it doing to young people who are trying to find their way? Trying to make it through one of the hardest parts of life?

When I'm compelled to speak online to a young person that I don't know because of something they've said, I take it very seriously. Most times I refrain but when I don't, I try and react in a way I'd want a stranger talking to my child about something as serious as adoption to react. Just writing that makes me feel a little sick to my stomach because I wouldn't want some stranger talking to my child about something as serious as adoption!! These kids are in situations you and I truly know nothing about because if there's one thing that's not complex about adoption is that the fact that it is complex. That every single story is unique, just as every single person is unique.

Am I the only one who thinks that telling a teen that you don't even know what to do is wrong? That conversing with them in the same way you converse with your online buddies is inappropriate? That attacking them and imposing your own adult views on them is disgusting? That disregarding and attacking each other isn't ok and is a piss poor example to be setting? These young people are so impressionable, so vulnerable and so precious and we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in a way we'd want people to conduct themselves around our own children. Conduct ourselves the way we would if we were having a discussion while they were in the same room as us.

We don't know what their biological families are like or what their story is. We don't know if their parents are really as horrible or fantastic as they're being portrayed. We don't know if they have clinical mental or physical health issues. We don't know enough to tell them their adoptive parents suck, or to tell them it's their right to call up their biological people and say hi out of the blue, to tell them they should get their baby back, that they're evil for not keeping it. That if we had it all to do over we'd NEVER have given our baby away. What a load of crap that one is! So easy to say 10, 20, 30 years later when your life is all well and good and you've forgotten how it feels to be a kid.

The young people are here, no changing that. They're blogging, commenting, reading and reacting. But they're also developing, growing and learning. Their issues, opinions and thoughts are real and important. They deserve just as much, if not more, validation and support as the rest of the people involved in this adoption blog world but they also deserve extra consideration and time taken on how we respond to them and to each other. They deserve to see a society of adults who are capable of having healthy discussion, open minds, and compassion for each other's unique stories and views. That can work together to create positive change. That can learn from each other and show respect when disagreeing.

One last thing that won't be popular but don't worry, I can take it. I would like young adopted people to know that not every personality flaw, weakness, or problem that you have is necessarily because of adoption. That people who aren't adopted have trust issues, say sorry too much, have eating disorders, have crappy parents, have self esteem issues, know nothing about their heritage, suffer from depression, repeatedly get into relationships with the wrong people, and many other traits associated with being adopted. I'm not saying that these traits are never a result of being adopted, but they're obviously caused by other reasons too since they're not unique to us adoptees. And what's not unique to non adopted persons is the ability to work it out. To be healthy and rise above adversity. To refuse to let others victimize us and make their problems ours. We have the ability to break a bad cycle. It's not easy, but believe me, it's possible.

When society looks down

When society looks down upon something, isn't it sometimes for a reason? There's much discussion in adoption debate about young girls being supported in keeping their babies. That although it's not as shameful as it once was, it's still discouraged and these young mothers are encouraged to relinquish, or something. That the amount of support necessary to enable them isn't there, whether it be in the form of social assistance or familial aid. My question is, what if it was? I mean, birth control exists for a reason, right? Females of all ages at some point in their life fear/dread getting pregnant. I think I can safely say that most females in their teens fall in to this category. Why is that? Well, for me, it was likely first and foremost that my mom would have "killed me". Second I think it must have been I didn't want to have a baby I couldn't keep, like my biological mother. Other than that, I don't think I had a reason. I wasn't one of the people who had education/career goals. My biggest goal was moving out on my own. Another goal was to have a child someday, originally on my own because I didn't think I was marriage material, that I didn't need to have a father in the picture, and possibly I used to imagine I would adopt a baby who needed a home although this is not a concrete memory so I'm not positive I felt that way. I think I did at some point though. Having said all that, I can state that even though having a child was one of my biggest goals in life I did everything humanly possible to make sure I didn't have one when I shouldn't, and I didn't.

Now, what if I hadn't been afraid of my mom "killing me". Or if I'd not known that I needed the resources to raise a child, that if I didn't have them my child could be lost to me. I'll never know for sure of course but my bet is that there's a good chance I'd have gotten pregnant before I was ready and it's a crap shoot what would have happened after that. I have three friends that found themselves pregnant when they didn't want to be and one had an abortion, one relinquished, and one kept the baby. The one who kept the baby found herself pregnant late in life, at a time when she thought she was done with babies so it's not a surprise she had the child, kept it, and is living happily ever after.

So, here's my point, I'm wondering what would happen if it was okay. That it would be no big deal if females getting pregnant as soon as they're physically able (and that's young!) was completely socially acceptable, if they were embraced and supported by government and family here in North America.

Please know I'm not saying women shouldn't be supported in unexpected, unintended pregnancy. I'm all for maternity and paternity leave, parental leave, welfare assistance for those in need, child tax benefits, grandparents babysitting off and on, baby showers, high school programs for teen moms etc, and if my son messes up and becomes a dad before he is ready I'll help him, that's a no brainer. I'll "kill him", but I'll help him.

Can't wait to be a grandma!