I was recently asked to serve as a guest blogger for Michelle Madrid-Branch, a life coach, author, speaker and global advocate for women and children. I had been mulling over a post about love for quite some time, and decided to use it for my guest blog appearance. For those who normally read my posts, you can find the lastest one here:
Healthline.com recently released their Best Adoptee Blogs for 2016, and I’m honored this blog was included on the list along with several adoptee bloggers that I follow. Thank you, Healthline for the mention.
If you want to read Healthline’s preview of my blog, follow the link below and scroll down to the 4th blog mentioned.
Today marks the 5th anniversary of the first time I spoke with my natural mom. I’ve known this 5th Momiversary (aptly named by my friend Sarah) was approaching, but I really failed to connect with its significance until a recent vacation.
For those who are struck by my insensitivity, let me say in my defense, it’s because I just get used to my circumstances fairly quickly. Life is what life is. So, the longer my family reunion has gone, the more it’s just normal to me. And I’m this way about everything; not that it justifies it, but it’s true. And I think it’s because when I found out I was adopted, there was little room for playing out some big scene about it. I was adopted, I still had a family, and I probably would never meet my first one. So, that’s that. Stuff happens, you adjust. And that’s even true when the stuff that happens is you reunite with your natural family.
But, I digress, because my point is that while on vacation I re-visited all of the texts, emails, and Facebook messages my mom (and other family members) and dad and I exchanged in those first few months of getting to know each other. And, it turns out, this is kinda a big deal. So, today, I celebrate, and I think about how I’ve navigated this whole experience, and why it’s gone so well by most standards. And I want to share those thoughts with you.
First, I made a commitment to myself that I would enter the reunion process prepared to submit to whatever level of relationship my family members wanted. Mostly I was thinking about my mom and dad, but my commitment has played out with all of my natural family. This commitment means I have some closer relationships than I ever anticipated, and some that are more laid back, and others that are very limited or non-existent. And all of that is okay. For a relationship to work, it has to be on mutually agreeable terms. That means I couldn’t go into this dictating those terms, and I’ve been blessed by maintaining that commitment to let my family members lead the way.
Second, I think communication has been key. I recently read a blog post that suggested adoptees carry too much responsibility for their adopted parents’ happiness (e.g. “you completed our family” or “you are God’s gift to us”), so in a reunion it’s important for a natural family (especially a mom) NOT to provide too much detail about how difficult life was without the adoptee because that adds too much responsibility for another parent’s happiness. I intellectually understand the author’s point, but I’m glad my family (especially my mom and dad) and I didn’t/don’t avoid the difficult topics. My mom’s choice was agonizing for her and carried significant consequences for her life, and I needed to hear that to understand her. And my dad was basically advised to step back from the whole process because he wasn’t ready to be a dad and a husband, and to let me and my mom go, and I needed to hear that too. And, my mom and dad have heard both the good and the bad of my life after adoption (the good tied to my adoptive family experience, the bad tied to the mental/emotional side effects), and they needed to hear that to know me. For every piece of information that we’ve shared that has been painful, I like to think that communication has also been healing, and has allowed us to get to a 5th Momiversary and an upcoming 5th Popiversary in April.
Finally, I think it’s been helpful to acknowledge that blood (genetics) does matter. As an adoptee, my entire life has been flooded with messages that are adoption-centric (e.g. family is who you choose). I have been blessed to live out those messages with an adoptive family that loved me. And I believe those messages are designed to help adoptees feel legitimate in their families, so I’m cool with them. But, those messages ever so subtly suggest to adoptees that blood (genetics) doesn’t matter. I’ve done enough research to know that’s not true, so I entered the reunion process ready to embrace my natural family as legitimate too. And, as odd as it sounds, the first weekend I spent with my natural mom’s family felt right because I was with people with whom I shared blood and genetic stamping. And I felt like that when I met my natural dad for the first time too. So, knowing that it was okay for both of my families to be legitimate has made the process easier.
I don’t suggest any other adoptee in reunion or anticipating reunion should embrace these concepts because all of our experiences will be different. But, these things helped me, and if they sound good to you, I hope they help.
Happy Momiversary to me, my mom, and all of the Payne family!
So, it’s been several months since I’ve written. I would like to say it’s because most days being adopted has no impact on my life whatsoever, and I don’t even think about it. But, that would not be true. I mean, yeah, some days being adopted means nothing more than I have lots of parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins, etc. But that’s not why I haven’t written. I haven’t written because…
It all started in mid summer. My (adoptive) dad had a heart attack and needed to have stents placed in a couple of arteries. That was…weird. My dad has been really healthy for my entire life, so it was odd to see him in a hospital bed with wires and machines and all. But I didn’t realize how vulnerable it made me feel until I contacted my (natural) dad to give him an update and he said that he’d been really sick too. My (natural) dad has Type 1 Diabetes, so not feeling well is part of the daily routine most of the time, but this was different, and I knew it. Both dads are…mortal. Not good. Not good. After a few weeks of feeling out of sorts over the whole thing, both dads began recovering and I felt less vulnerable. But then this happened…
Over the course of a few weeks of mindless television watching, I heard the following phrase (or an equivalent) at least three times – “I would be okay with adopting kids, but I want the first one to be from us….” And there it is! The disappointing reminder that the “chosen” narrative isn’t quite as nice and neat as we all want to think in the world of adoption. I have thought (and thought) about the right way to explain this, and all I can conjure is a grade school narrative. At times, adoption feels to me like being chosen last on the playground only to end up on the winning team. I mean, it’s cool I get to be on the winning team, but it still stinks not to be picked first. And while I was blessed with a wonderful family in my adoption experience, I still wasn’t picked first – by either of my families, in fact – so it still sucks when I’m reminded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m cool with the fact that an individual knows he/she wants to have biological children before adopting. I am even more cool with the fact that they will acknowledge it and not try to act like having biological children doesn’t matter to them. And it’s my fault I over-think everything about my experience. But it still stinks. And I was going to write about it a couple of months ago, until…
I often read old posts before I begin a new one. Helps me see if I’m covering new ground or re-hashing old material. So, when I began to write about being “chosen,” I read a bit and began feeling exposed, I guess. I’m sure that those of you who read this blog, but don’t know me, have no idea how hard it is for me to write anything about thoughts/feelings of a personal nature. It’s like torture. I guard ME with fierce intensity. So, coming off of feeling vulnerable and disappointed, exposed was just too much. So, I’ve been quiet. Hiding behind the wall I’ve built over time. And not just on here. I’ve withdrawn in other aspects of my life because that’s what I do when I feel exposed.
But I began this blog for a reason. And that reason was to share my thoughts as an adoptee in hopes that others can see things in a new way. And I can’t do that if I refuse to write. So, here I am…having felt vulnerable, disappointed, and exposed. And now you know. And it pains me to have told you, but I hope someone can read this and say, “Yeah, I’ve felt that too” and maybe that commonality will make them feel better.
If you have read anything about adoption, you know that adoptee access to medical history is a hot topic. I think most people understand that it’s better for adoptees to have access to their family medical history for the obvious reason – to be aware of potential health issues that run through their genetic lines. I agree this is an excellent reason to ensure adoptees have access to that history without having to jump through any hoops, but I believe there are more reasons to do it and I want to share one by way of a story.
A few weeks ago, I visited a medical provider for an annual exam. I checked in at the front window, and the staff person verified some information, handed me a packet, and explained that it was time to update my medical history. She said my old form was in the packet, along with a brand new form, and that I could transfer my answers and update any that are necessary.
When I reached my chair in the waiting room and looked at my old form, I saw my traditional single line drawn down the entire “unknown” column, and noted that someone else had written in script across the entire page “ADOPTED.” Ah, yes, there it was – the medical version of the reminder that I am different from other people.
But, then, I looked at the fresh, clean page, and read it – for the very first time in my life – because I actually know my family medical history now. I was so excited to fill out that form; a form that other people don’t give a second thought. After I completed my careful review and started to return the form, I realized I had some explaining to do to the front desk staff person, so I smiled and said, “I am adopted and reunited with my natural families, so I know my medical history now.” She looked sort of confused at first, then her eyes softened, and she smiled and said, “That’s great.”
I don’t know if she was declaring my knowledge or my reunion as great, but in that moment, the great part for me was the empowerment I felt in completing that form.
A few months ago, I was chatting with someone about being adopted. The conversation was like many I have – the person didn’t know I was adopted, so they asked all the normal questions that ultimately reveal the major parts of the story. After listening, they smiled and said, “Well, aren’t you glad you were adopted?” I’m sure I said my normal answer, which is something along the lines of yes, and I’m happy I’m reunited as well (see prior post by similar name). But I can’t get the question out of my head, and I finally figured out the reason.
Most people expect adoptees to be grateful/happy/thankful that they are adopted. Thus, they also expect adoptees to see adoption as the best/first/only choice for their lives. I think that’s one reason so many adoptions have been closed – no need to explore that other option of having your natural family because it wasn’t the best/first/only option. It was the alternative, and not even a good one.
Yet, on the adoptive parent side of the situation, it’s a different story. Many people who adopt do so as the alternative/addition to having natural children. For some, basic biology keeps some from having natural children (e.g. infertility, same sex partners). For others, they have natural children and decide to adopt as well. I’ve heard countless adoptive parents make statements like, “We couldn’t have children of our own, so we adopted” or “We already had kids, and we decided to adopt as well.”
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with adoptive parents; I have two and I love them.
But would anyone ever say to an adoptive parent – “You’ve got this amazing adopted child, aren’t you thankful you couldn’t have natural children?” or “Now that you have your adopted kids, don’t you just wish you could get rid of your natural ones?” I think we would all be appalled (and rightly so) if we ever heard anyone ask those questions of adoptive parents, but adoptees are just supposed to be cool with a question that has very similar meaning.
I don’t point this out to chastise anyone who has ever asked the question. I write about it because it highlights the complicated issues raised by adoption and the disjointed messages that are often presented. Adoption isn’t nearly as easy/clean/uncomplicated as we like to present, and it’s good to know that because it may help make futures adoptions easier/better/less stressful for everyone involved. Because, in the end, we are a society that still needs the process, so the goal should be to make it better.
For many adoptees, the adoption process creates an either/or type of scenario. You can either be with your natural family or your adoptive family. You can either be happy you were adopted or upset you were adopted. You can either love your adoptive family or your natural family.
For me, my decision to reunite with my natural family took away those restrictions. I have a both/and scenario, and as I reflect this week on the things for which I am thankful, I thought I would share the adoption-related ones with you.
- I’m thankful to be adopted because I was raised and nurtured by a loving, encouraging family. My mom, dad, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. etc. are pretty cool people who have each impacted me in a unique and positive way.
- I’m thankful to be reunited because I now get to be nurtured by another loving, encouraging family. My mom, dad, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. are also cool people who are now placing their positive impressions in my life.
- I’m thankful to have been adopted in the State of Tennessee because it recognized twenty-something years ago that adoptees have a natural right to their history and have been releasing identifying information at the request of adoptees ever since.
- I’m thankful for a God who, while certainly not making my adoption occur or necessarily even wanting it to occur, was traveling with me every step of the way and blessing the choices others had to make.
- I’m thankful the path chosen for me led me to my husband, Jeff, who supported me in finding my natural family and graciously welcomed my natural mom into our home so that we can develop the relationship that started 40 years ago while she was carrying me.
- I’m thankful that more and more adoptees are speaking up about their experiences because it helps me see that my responses to being adopted are similar to others, which means they are normal.
- I’m thankful for individuals in my life who treat both of my families with equal respect rather than suggesting one is more “real” than the other.
- I’m thankful for the peace that has been created in my being because I now know the origin of who I am, both in nurture and nature.