Often I have wondered, “Who are the other authors in the anthology books where my stories have been published?” I feel honored to have my story in Laura Dennis’ newest book, Adoption Reunion in the Social Media Age: An Anthology.
This time I was given a unique opportunity. Laura Dennis paired those of us authors who are bloggers to interview each other. I wholeheartedly believe my new friend, Lynn Wetherill-Grubb’s piece could be especially helpful to those new to the adoption community. Personally, in my adoption journey, there have been times I’ve felt so alone and confused. Lynn offered some great suggestions in my interview for adoptees as they navigate in search of their own truths.
I want to thank you Lynn for answering my questions with such authenticity and encouragement.
Years ago, I remember feeling devastated when I went to a party in our neighborhood and the hostess, an adoptee, was quite vocal that she would never search for her birth family. She was adamant that it would hurt her parents and that they were her mom and dad. Deep inside, my greatest fear has always been that others would think badly of me if I were to hurt anyone. I can remember feeling defensive. This woman had unfairly misjudged me. How could I have possibly explained or should I have had to with my particular “tough” circumstances for having been searching?
I honestly don’t think we owe anyone an explanation — whether they be tough circumstances (and let’s face it, until we search, we usually don’t know those circumstances) or worries about others’ feelings. Of course we can be sensitive to others’ feelings, but still consider our own feelings just as important. You can validate non-searchers for their reasons without invalidating your own reasons for searching. Example: “I was really worried too that my relationship with my adoptive parents would suffer; however, I find that it brought us closer together” or “I figured my birth mother was a poor, drug-abuser, but it turns out she was ‘most likely to succeed’ in her senior class.”
I have always been a searcher; however, I did put off my search until mid-life out of feeling like there was no hope for answers due to closed records. I always inherently knew inside that it was my right and duty to myself to find out where I came from. Nobody told me it was my right. I hope my telling somebody else it is their right might clear out some of the foggy thinking that many adoptees have by being raised within secrets.
I have found that non-adoptees validate my searching when they understand that they already have their own medical history, genealogy, etc., by way of just coming into the world. I can’t tell you how many non-adoptees have said to me, “I think your blog is great — you are helping other people in the same position as you!”
Sadly, some adoptees who do not want to search are the ones who will attempt to invalidate your different way of looking at things or as I have experienced, distance themselves from you because they are afraid you will pressure them, challenge them or threaten their way of thinking.
I believe your story in the book offers great suggestions for those adoptees feeling alone or conflicted in beginning their search. What words of encouragement could you have offered me as a friend and fellow adoptee, if you had known I was struggling?
I would have said, “It’s o.k. to have all these feelings and still go ahead and take the plunge anyway. I will walk through it with you every step of the way.” Or if you had not wanted to search, I might say, “It’s o.k. to be too afraid to open up Pandora’s Box.” Sometimes adoptees are just not in the right time or place to have the psychological strength to face the demons of being adopted.
Some adoptees never will and that is o.k. because we all have different paths. As your friend, I would have validated your feelings as a fellow adopted person even if I personally did not understand them. Validation is something we as adoptees have gotten far too little of on this journey we walk.
What is the one thing you needed from others that you still don’t believe anyone quite understood about you as an individual from your personal adoption journey?
I feel that the missing piece was woven into this essay that I wrote for Laura Dennis’ anthology — that nobody advocated for my right to know my heritage, my birth family, or the reasons for my relinquishment. Nobody was helping me get information, pictures, health history or any of those other things that non-adoptees take for granted. Nobody at the adoption agency was willing to help me search unless I paid them. Basically, the only person who advocated for me was me. And I hope to see that change in the future as we older adoptees understand the struggles that the ones coming behind us will face, even in so-called “open” adoptions. I have had an opportunity to advocate for my own daughter (an adoptee) and to be sure she has all the information that I never had access to.
“Sometimes it is helpful in facing the fear to think about the worst possible scenario, and then psychologically attempt to cope with this outcome prior to actively searching.”
After reading your sentence above, I have repeatedly asked myself why I didn’t do something like that. It would have saved me a lot of heartache. After learning my first mother was deceased, I feel like I crossed a busy intersection without looking both ways first. I literally jumped into the fire and until recently totally blamed myself for the outcome. “Would I have disrupted my birth siblings’ lives had I known I had been conceived from infidelity in the 1950s?” The only information my adoptive mother was willing to share about my beginnings was “I was one too many.” I never gave it any thought that it might have been just an assumption on her part, or one more lie in a long string of untruths.
Looking back, I can see it clearer now that my half-siblings didn’t have a chance to forgive our mother, who passed away at the age of only 44, for her sometimes reckless choices in life. Whether they came right out and said it, actions spoke louder than words; learning about my conception from her unfaithfulness to their father just made their wounds deeper and hurt more.
I too jumped into the fire, JoAnne. I was brainwashed by the stories my adoptive mother and the adoption “system” indoctrinated into me as well. I think all adoptees are brain washed to a certain extent into thinking and believing a certain way until a major life event happens and we (hopefully) come out of the fog.
This statement about thinking about worst-case scenarios is psychological pre-planning for intense feelings that will likely come up later if what you find is painful. Then you get to decide beforehand if you can handle those intense feelings about whatever truth you may find. By mid-life I was mentally and emotionally prepared to find just about anything: affairs, lies, you name-it.
None of us get a free pass out of pain, whether it be secrets that adoption tries to cover up or not. People die, people disappoint and we all have to find a way to accept that, even those we “find” along the journey.
For those adoptees who are wanting to search and perhaps are a little naive in life like I was, or that always see life with hopefulness, in your opinion, what would be the best way for loved ones and close friends to offer emotional support? From your experiences, what if it feels just too overwhelming on so many different levels to accept the truth, where can an adoptee go that feels safe and non-judgmental besides a therapist?
I’m a big fan of being your own good parent. Take care of your own emotional needs by having hobbies you love, friends you trust and can confide in and staying away from people who will hurt you or discourage you. I know many adoptees decide to tell nobody in their adoptive family they are searching and I think that is a valid choice if it protects your fragile emotions. I didn’t expect to get any emotional support from my adoptive family and I was surprised to actually get a little bit. My husband was my biggest supporter so I was fortunate in that regard.
I have not personally joined any adoption search and support groups IRL (in real life), but I have heard many other adoptees say how wonderful they are for support. I personally prefer one-on-one relationships with other adoptees IRL and on-line. I also like the Facebook support groups that I am active in for adoptees-only.
All new information and “truths” we discover along the search will need to be grieved and processed. We become painfully aware of the life we missed out on by having the one we lived. The other side of the grief is where you are able to integrate your entire identity as a whole person, rather than a fragmented one.
Were there any possible scenarios that would have changed your mind about searching?
If my birth mother would have found me, I would have had no reason to search for her. Even if my records were open, I still would have searched to see who my mother was. I cannot think of any scenarios where I would not have searched, even if I had been told I was conceived in rape. I am still searching for my birth father and that will never end until I find him or I die first.
What is my birthright? How would we describe it simply to another adoptee or strangers who have no understanding of what it means to “embrace your right?”
Your birth right is to know who you are. How do we know who we are? By our ancestors, genealogy, DNA, mirroring, family members, friends and the stories and legacies of our history. Stories are passed down through generations. The adoptive family stories and legacy are important, but our birth family stories and legacies are just as important and make up who we are as complete and whole people. I believe it is each of our right to look into the face of the woman who bore us. I believe it is our right to be exactly who we were put on this earth to be. Adoption may have wounded us or blighted out that light that we would have shined in the world. Or it may have just made the light brighter, once we are able to embrace the whole picture of who we are.
I was born to be an advocate for myself and other people with determination to forge ahead — that was given to me as my birth gift. Working in the legal field has helped me to understand legal rights and being adopted has helped me to understand human rights. I believe as a closed-era reunited adoptee, I have a responsibility to stand up and be a “voice against adoption mythology” and let the world know that I will not cower in fear to others’ expectations, feelings or beliefs if the price is to ignore my own expectations, feelings and beliefs.
In your story, you seem assured and knowledgeable with searching being our birthright as adoptees. For the adoptees new to the adoption community, what has worked for you and could you offer as helpful suggestions, when one is still trying to find their own truths amongst the many different life experiences?
I would say that if you are new to the adoption community, this is the best time to be new! There are plenty of resources on the internet now days (like this book!) that we just didn’t have access to when we were young adoptees. Books have been my biggest life-line. Books by Betty Jean Lifton gave me a warm embrace when I needed it most to know that what I have felt inside was “normal” for adoptees. Reading books and blogs by my fellow adoptee-authors is like having a cup of coffee and having them sit right beside you on the couch. There are search angels willing to help you — all you have to do is ask and most do it at no cost to you because they too understand what it feels like to feel cut off from the truth of who they are.