Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Being Adopted

I don't remember not knowing I was adopted. Sometime when I was very small, my parents told me I was adopted, that someone else had been my 'real mommy', but she couldn't take care of me, so she gave me to a family that could take care of me. As I was growing up, it was no big deal, an odd fact about myself on the order of 'I have a mole on my left shoulder'.

When I was two years old, my parents adopted another baby boy, who became my brother. Same song, second verse.

When my adoptive mother left my Dad, and Dad remarried, we were suddenly transformed into a blended family, with people having come from multiple different directions, so I almost lost track of the fact that I was adopted - we were busy making one family out of two, and who cared what path had brought you here?

Every once in a while, something would 'come up' that would remind me I was adopted - I'm pretty musical, whereas my Dad can't carry a tune in a basket - but it was mainly no big deal. By the time we were all grown, I was the only male in the family shorter than 6-2, let alone 6 feet, but since I was practically the oldest, it took a while for that to become obvious.

Looking back on my childhood, it seems clear now that my parents' (most particularly my adoptive mother's) infertility was something of a '900-pound gorilla' - the huge fact that you can't really ignore, but you don't want to talk about it. Some time back, I got a copy of my school record (I forget what I was looking for), and I was struck by the fact that, on the line for 'Relationship to Student', my adoptive mother had written "Step Mother". When it came down to it, she didn't really think of herself as my mother.

When Molly and I were engaged, and I told her I was adopted, it didn't faze her a bit. When she told her mother, though, her Mom said, "Don't ever tell your Grandma; he might be something she doesn't like." (*sigh*)

The next time I gave any thought to being adopted was when my first child was born. It hit me like a ton of bricks - this baby girl was the first person I'd ever known who was genetically related to me. She had a peculiar pattern in her hair that I also have, and that was just incredibly poignant to me.

When my second daughter was born, it began to bug me that being adopted meant that I didn't know any of my genetic health history - what if I had some pre-disposition for some disease that meant I should take special precautions for my kids? I made a few efforts to find out what I could actually know in that regard, but I didn't really know what I was doing, and I didn't get anything helpful out of it.

Some years later, I took up genealogy as a hobby, and got fairly adept at searching through public records to learn about the history of my family. Over the next few years, a whole series of circumstances came together, to the point that I decided I really did want to know who my birth-parents were.

I want to be very clear that searching for my birth-parents had nothing whatsoever to do with any perceived deficiencies in my relationship with my parents. I loved my parents as much as I ever had (still do); I was simply looking for something that they didn't have to give me. Where did I come from? Who do I look like? Etc., etc. Those are questions which, for most people, are plain and straightforward; for the adoptee, though, they refer to a blank page. It was almost as if I'd fallen out of the sky; at some point - Ploop! - there I was! That's all I knew, and I wanted the whole story. That's all. Before I started searching in earnest, I talked to my Dad about what I wanted to do. I wasn't really asking his permission, but I suppose he could have stopped me, if he'd wanted to. He didn't, though; he knew it wasn't about him, or our relationship. And for that, I'm grateful.

I won't bore you with the details of the search itself. It took about two-and-a-half months (pretty fast as such things go), and a lot of that time was just waiting for letters or phone calls to be returned.

Ever since our first contact, my birth-mother and I have had a very warm relationship. Knowing her has been pretty much all that I'd hoped it would be, and more besides. It has been wonderfully solidifying just knowing where I came from and how I got here. I now have a sense of being 'rooted to this earth', that I didn't have before. I hadn't anticipated what it would be like to come in touch with people who, 'in their bones' were 'like me' in some intrinsic way - the genetic components of personality took me by surprise, and it was a wonderful surprise, for sure.

I was also unprepared for the emotional impact of the search and reunion - for several weeks afterward, I was an emotional wreck. They were, in the main, happy emotions, but the experience of them was orders of magnitude more intense than anything I'd ever experienced. Poor Molly must have wondered, on occasion, if I was losing my mind.

By now, that is 16+ years ago, and knowing my various parents, 'birth-' and otherwise, has become pretty much normal, daily life (except that Molly now has three mothers-in-law; for which she has now mostly forgiven me).

The story took on a new chapter this past winter when 1F, my oldest daughter, gave birth to a baby girl. She's giving our grand-daughter up for adoption, so now I get to experience adoption from the side of the family 'saying goodbye'. It's very poignant, but ultimately, I'm happy that my grand-daughter will be able to have a family. I only hope that her experience can be nearly as good, and as rich, as mine has been.

No comments: