In August, Rebecca Hawkes at Love Is Not a Pie wrote a post entitled "Shrugging Off the Shoulds and Shouldn'ts of an Adopted Life." Growing up, Rebecca absorbed the same cultural messages that I did -- not because my adopted parents weren't loving, well-meaning people, but because the culture of adoption encouraged this type of thinking, both in my parents and in society as a whole.
"Your adoptive family should be enough for you."
"You shouldn't be curious."
"You shouldn't feel connected to your biological relatives."
"You should be loyal to the adoptive family."
"You should always remember that your real parents are the ones who raised you."
For many adoptees -- myself included -- these cultural messages are extremely difficult to dismiss. Even now, at age 62, I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm not being disloyal to my now- deceased adoptive parents when I speak out for honesty and transparency in adoption.
For many years, I felt that my personal history was a taboo subject. As a very young child, I remember asking my a-mother who my "real" mother was. Ouch! Obviously as a little girl, I wasn't up to speed on politically correct adoption language. I'm sure I just wanted to know how and by whom I had arrived on this earth. I don't remember my mother's response, but my father came to me later that evening and said, "You know, that really hurt your mother's feelings when you asked that question because she feels like she's your 'real' mother.
As a youngster, I felt as if I had tread where I wasn't supposed to go. And I didn't go there again for many years. There was always this feeling in me that a search for my roots would be disloyal and wrong in some way, but again, I just wanted some resolution -- to know the circumstances of my birth and my own genealogy. Even today, when I know better intellectually, I sometimes feel as if I still need to apologize for that desire to know my own story.
For a long time, I convinced myself that adoption really wasn't a big issue in my life. I buried my "curiosity" because as an adoptee of my era, this is what I was expected to do. From adolescence on, I struggled with low-level depression, but I didn't connect these sad feelings to adoption. Instead, I just felt deficient and different in some way, although I struggled mightily to appear just like everyone else, and I pushed myself to excel in academics and sports to prove to myself and others how worthy I was. The last thing I wanted to do at that time was to embrace my status as an adoptee and to explore how that status made me feel.
Having my own daughters reinforced the fact that biology plays a key role in our lives and magnified my need and desire to connect with my roots. But again I did nothing -- I continued to feel paralyzed. Those dominant cultural messages were still so deeply embedded in me! For me, what tipped the scales was a life-threatening bout with stage 2 malignant melanoma. While developing a treatment plan, my doctors at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital wanted to know whether I came from an at-risk family, and like so many adoptees, I had to answer, "I don't know." And at that point, I just thought to myself: "You know -- I'm just not going to put up with this second-class treatment any longer."
Then, like so many adoptees who search, I discovered that discrimination against adult adoptees is still rampant and thoroughly entrenched throughout our society. And even though most adoptions facilitated today have some degree of openness, the cultural stigmas about adoption remain very strong in many circles and sadly, in the legislative chambers of nearly every state.
How many times during on-line discussions about adoption articles do we see comments like this?:
"Your 'real' parents are the ones who cared for you."
"You shouldn't go looking for your original family and open that Pandora's box."
"You should be happy your biological mother chose to give you life and leave it at that."
Cultural messages like these are still pervasive, although at least in on-line forums, they tend to be outnumbered by fact and experienced-based comments posted by those who actually live adoption.
What I found at the end of my search was an older woman who was not interested in revisiting the past. She did not wish to meet. But she did provide medical and historical information for me, and I now know her name and something about her. That alone is so empowering, a difficult concept to explain to anyone who has not lived the adoptee life. So I ask all those who oppose granting adult adoptees unrestricted access to their original birth certificates, "What is the big deal and what is it that you are so afraid of?"
My original mother is an adult; I am an adult. I would have liked to meet. She didn't wish to meet. I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted. End of story. Why did I have to waste so many years wondering who and where she was? Why am I not permitted to know more about my original father, who has long been deceased? Who does all this secrecy benefit, and why must adults abide by such an archaic and dare I say, inhumane, set of rules?
Perhaps I am a slow learner, because it took me many years to figure all of this out -- that the problem with adoption isn't some deficiency in me; it's in a misguided, unethical and inhumane system that says, even though all the evidence proves otherwise, that it is acceptable for children to never know their birth identities.
Amending and sealing an adoptee's birth certificate for life is a practice that cannot be defended by any empirical measure. When adoption is not built on an honest foundation, its participants are bound to suffer, either outwardly or inwardly. And granting adult adoptees unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates should not be a controversial topic -- it should be a no-brainer.
You might also like:
The Silent Adoptee
Adult Adoptee Access -- A Civil Right Long Overdue
Why I Oppose Confidential Intermediaries
Sealed Records Are Wrong. Period.
I'm glad there are voices like yours helping people like me understand the damage those cultural messages can do. It's only through knowledge the we can affect change.ReplyDelete
I appreciate your comment because that's really the only reason I have a blog -- to raise awareness. I know my adoptive mother never meant to hurt me; she just didn't understand all the nuances of adoption. In the days of my relinquishment, no one did. What surprises me is all the ignorance that still exists today.
I think honesty in adoption is controversial because adoption itself is built on lies.ReplyDelete
Yo, Susie, you got that right. I think if it were handled differently, there would not be so much controversy and animosity between the two sets of parents.Delete
Well, there's nothing wrong in finding out the truth about your personal life, especially in searching for information about your real parents and your birth certificate. It's like you removed a big thorn from your heart once you found out the missing piece of your real identity. I hope other people would understand that finding the real parents doesn't mean you forgot how your adopted ones took care of you.ReplyDelete
This is all true, but I would just like to point out, as an adoptee, that part of the problem is the word "real." No one is unreal, everyone is real. Some adoptive parents are hurt by the use of "real parents" to describe original parents, and when people are hurt, they shut down and don't listen, as Susan found out as a child. We adoptees need both nature and nurture to become who we are. Otherwise I agree with what you are saying.Delete
As for conversant itself, the angry comments and back and forth between adoptive parents and natural parents that I have just dealt with at FMF was eye-opening. It all started out as a post about the use of the word "parent" as a verb and ended up in war. Not much chance of reconciliation there, but I think the angry and upset APS were...ah, members of a certain religious group that whole-heartedly believes in adoption.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your most interesting blog. I was adopted as a six week old baby. My adoptive father new my birth mothers parents - he grew up with them. We were told about adoption at a very young age. My Adoptive mother was a little bit touchy about the issue. She had only one son and when he was 16 realized they wanted more kids and couldn't have any. They adopted me (red hair) 1959 and my younger but redhead again sister - different families. My adopted parents let me in on tidbits through out the years. One tidbit my dad shared with me was that the girls in my real family were very phony and not very nice people. Coming from him this was huge because he NEVER said anything negative ever about anyone. My mother told me one day my biological father had drowned. He left a devastated family behind.ReplyDelete
PART TWO: The father side of my family NEVER new who i was. The mother side kept it from them. I have met and known my biological mother for over twenty years. Recently i met the rest of her family aunts grandchildren other children cousins etc. I say they were all nice EXCEPT for my real mother. She did a lot of very strange things, like send her husband to pick me up at the airport, o.k, no probs people have to work even at 72. She gave me a nice bedroom/bathroom and told me i could make my own coffee an watch my own tv. She didn't like people in her living room. Ignored that and went upstairs every a.m. for coffee and sat and watched her tv shows with her on her couch. She tried to ditch me when going to her sisters for a massage treatment saying the mall was just around the corner and then she ran into her sisters house. her husband walked the 5 miles home. I ignored that too and went inside with her as her sister had offered to give me a massage too. when her massage was done she went home without me. Her sister and husband took me out for dinner we had a nice visit and then they took me back to "her" house. The lights were all out and the door was locked. it was 9:30 p.m. Fortunately her sister new the code to get in. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Why search for me your whole life only to treat me like that. On top of it she hates who I have become and what religion i chose. Unbelievable. I was willing to overlook everything until I got this bizzare email - I guess she clued in I had figured out who my real father was - her cousin. Unfortunately he is dead. He never new about me - his kids now do. I had known who his parents where but they had 4 boys and i didn't know which one exactly was my father. I figured out his name from a list my aunt gave me of the family. Anyways, my aunt told me she was protecting her sister from emotional pain in not devulging all the information about my fathers family to me and i was not supposed to know until my bio mother died. Secrets hurt. I refuse to be anyone's dirty little secret. I had already had that discussion with her once. This person would never have been the loving nurturing mother i needed. I was a sickly introverted child that required a lot of attention and constant reinforcement that i could make it in life. My bio-mother is a narcissist. THIS IS THE EMAIL SHE SENT ME A WEEK AFTER I GOT HOME:ReplyDelete
hi, so you are back home, amongst your peers and family, Its always nice to be home I received a refresher on morals A few days ago some valuable comments came to me. I am sharing them . Everynone has a right to privacy. Everyone needs to respect others wishes, No one has to agree with others lifestyles and values, but they meed to respect them. Gossip, is cruel, and judge mental . When our body hurts, medicine can't always fix it, but our attitude and believe can, Medicine is a band aid tommask the pain , Much more, but cant do anymore right now .
A Real slap in the face after all the nasty comments she made about family I had grown up with and about my overbearing husband (apparently - her words not mine) and all the other garbage she said which I took as just venting and needing a shoulder to cry on ------- until i got this email. The humour in all her antics has gone out the door for me. I had never been able to feel or call her mother anyways. Another word comes to mind but it is not repeatable. Although i muttered it when I was by myself. I have no problem calling my deceased father dad in conversations with his kids. I know he had issues and he was an alcoholic but I also know he adopted his two wives children from previous relationships. (His first wife died when their child was only 4 months old. - car accident) I have a new and profound respect for my parents who raised me. Not all reunions end up this way I understand that but mine did.