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.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I am an AP and I have been trying to read as much as I can about what adult adoptees have to say. I enjoyed reading your post.

  2. Well thought out, interesting and surprisingly honest. I particularly liked that she discovered that she had two mothers and was loved. This is the ideal situation with adoption and reunion.

    Campbell, I have been so divided in my brain lately - did you search and find your first mother?

  3. I knew you'd like her better! *Pout*

    Hi Lori, I like the part about what she'd like her "real parents" to have, I was seriously loling at that part because that couldn't be more honest! The part you particularly like is great too : ) I like the whole post!

    Yes, I have searched and yes I believe I have found my first mother. I had definite contact once via government agency exchange of non id letters and now believe I've found her on my own and have written twice. I've not heard back on either. Oh yeah, and called once but she wasn't in and a young man, grandson I think, answered.

  4. Campbell,

    LOL! Actually I think we all have those fantasies. I always believed I would find someone completely different than the my daughter - but then she did not have the two advantages that we all assume our children have, Love and Education. Believe it or not that is huge to first parents.

    Patience with your first mother. I know that it is like smashing a wall you did not know existed, this sudden motherhood/daughterhood. The search is actually the easy part, the finding and learning and patience and understanding that is the hard part.

    Be, if I may, gently persistant, unless she tells you (herself - I never believe others when they say "No Contact" - learned that the hard way) to not contact. A lot of times our own anxiousness to know gets the better of our good sense.

    Don't just give up, but be truly gentle.

  5. No need to worry about me being gentle Lori. There is way more at stake for her and I take that very seriously. I've said before that I hold no animosity toward her (bmom) for the decision she made and I truly mean that. Somehow, I get it. There is the slight annoyance at not having heard back yet, more like a consideration thing, but it's nothing. I know there is some reason.

    Thank you for the kind words and thoughtful advice : )

  6. This post made me laugh and cry a little. I thought it was so insightful and honest and I agree with you that maybe we all had fantasies about what our lives and our parents should hav been like, adopted or not.
    I also appreciate that you recognized later that your mother probably had expectations for her daughter and your sister turned out totally different. That was such a great lesson/reminder for me to not project any of my own visions onto my children but to just learn who they are and love them for it. I believe that the more I know about their mother and fathers and families, the more I can also recognize when their biological talents are coming through that I may not immediately see or appreciate.
    This was awesome. Thank you!
    And Campbell if you get more info about your mother and feel like posting your experiences that aren't too personal I would love to know. I am rooting for you.. What a delicate moment this probably is for you in your life. Good luck.

  7. Hey Shannan

    If anything interesting happens I'll likely write about it. It's more irritating than delicate at the moment because I've not heard back, and I'm not even thinking about it as much as when I first sent it. For me, it just is what it is, but I'll tell you if anything exciting happens and thanks for the good wishes : )


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