Moments in Time You Never Think You’ll Have

It all started with a simple observation. While my (natural) dad and I were hanging out a year or so ago, he casually said, “It would be good to see Carol again.” I registered the comment and said I would ask my (natural) mom what she thought and if we could make it happen, we would. Given the way their relationship ended, I wasn’t sure my mom would want to see my dad again, but when I mentioned it, she said she would. The remaining time in that visit came and went without a meeting, and our next opportunity didn’t work out either. But last Monday, everything came together and I sat in a room with both of my (natural) parents for a little while. 

For those who’ve followed my blog, you know that my (natural) mom has already met my (adoptive) parents. The meeting took place almost four years ago, and was very cool. It had moments of laughter and tears, and sharing stories and photos, and went about as well as I could have hoped. It was an important moment in time to me. 

Something about Monday felt different. I think there was more riding on it. I mean, my mom and my parents had no history together, so there was nothing bringing them together except me. That wasn’t true on Monday. My (natural) mom and dad do share a history, and its last moments were not pleasant, so Monday wasn’t just about bringing together people I love, it also involved bringing together two people who used to love each other. That’s pretty deep even when it doesn’t involve a child they gave for adoption. 

So, when my parents approached each other in the parking lot, I said, “I think you guys know each other” and stepped back to let that moment happen. It did, and it was fine. Much like I envision old friends meeting up at a high school reunion. They said hello, gave each other a quick hug (my dad asked if it was okay, which I thought was polite), and we went into a restaurant to grab coffee (dad), hot chocolate (mom), and tea (me). 

I’m not sure what I thought we’d discuss, but mostly it was catching up on the important people in our lives and a recap of what my mom and I had done on our visit. In the midst of that small talk, I was able to look back and forth between my parents and clearly see how I came from them. And in that moment, the final pieces of my history converged. 

I’ve told people that being adopted is similar to reading a book that doesn’t include the first chapter, so you’re missing the back-story on the main character. Until I met my (natural) family, that’s how I felt. I knew how my (adoptive) family shaped all the chapters that followed, but I also knew there was a first chapter and that was important too. Even when I got to read my first chapter, it was written in two distinct parts – one that featured my mom and one that featured my dad – and it felt like those stories somehow didn’t really connect. Obviously, they did because that connection created me, but that almost seemed more like a sterile fact than a real connection. 

Now the first chapter is interwoven. And not just that chapter. The chapter of my life that is currently being written features them both – in the same room, at the same time – and so my history fully converged into my present. That’s a gift I never thought I’d receive. I feel tremendously blessed to have the past chapters in my story aligned and full, and to have the current (and future) chapters reflect all of who I am and the people who make me who I am. 

But I mourn for other adoptees who don’t. Those who never meet their (natural) parents or who never get to introduce their (natural) parents to their (adoptive) parents or who never get to see their (natural) parents in the same room. And I pray that those who need those moments to happen in their lives will get those opportunities. Because while not every adoptee needs that, I know I did, and I’m sure others do too. 

While I don’t know how Monday’s meeting impacted my (natural) mom and dad, I hope they can embrace the part they have played in shaping me – not just because of their genetics, but because of the past 5 years we’ve shared – and that they can be proud of the chapters that are written now and in the future because they are a critical part of those too.

I like the book of my life so far, and I’m excited to write the remaining chapters with all the main characters present. 

What’s all the Fuss about Medical History? 

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. 

Adoption and Options and Questions

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. 

Playing with my Brother

Some of my best memories are anchored in Seneca, SC, where I spent 5 years. Seneca was a great place to be between the ages of 5 and 10 as our house was nestled at the bottom of a hill in a small neighborhood, with a wooded area and creek running right behind it. The best part of my Seneca memories involve my (adoptive) brother, Shawn. Seven years older than me, he was nonetheless my first (and best) friend and playmate. We spent many days (and some nights) playing “ninja” in the woods, riding our bikes, damming up the creek, and playing highly competitive games of wiffle ball and touch football with other kids from the neighborhood. While I knew I was adopted, it didn’t really have a daily impact on my life because I was too young to recognize that having another mom and dad somewhere meant I might have other siblings too. So, I soaked up those experiences with my brother, and stored the moments in the vault of my memories.

Three years ago, when I talked to my (natural) parents for the first time, I found out that I do have other siblings – 2 brothers and a sister – all younger than me. One of the “mixed emotions” of the reunion process (and there are many) is that while I have had the blessing of an awesome relationship with Shawn, I missed out on having any relationship with my other brothers and sister. And while I would love to create memories with them like I have with Shawn, you can’t force any moments in the reunion process without stressing an already fragile fabric.

But, when moments arise, you can soak them up, and I had a few moments with my youngest brother, Jared, last week in Pensacola. At 40 years old, it’s a little difficult to imagine playing with you brother for the first time, but it’s effectively what happened as Jared and I went on a sailing adventure with our aunt, uncle, and mom (he got to steer the boat; I got to help hoist the sails), attended a baseball game, and played a game of cards with our mom, aunts, and cousin. During those moments, I learned more about Jared and the ways we are different, and the things we have in common. And, mostly, I just experienced them so they can go in the vault with my other treasured memories of playing with one of my brothers.

I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to play with my other brother (time and distance is a major barrier) or my sister (she doesn’t know about me yet), but I am thankful that I have had the experience with 2 of my 4 siblings.

Becky

History Matters

My natural mom is currently visiting family this week, specifically my brothers, sister-in-law, and nieces. I told someone about her visit earlier this week, and they responded, “Why didn’t you go with her?” I stood there in stunned silence for what seemed like a really long time before I responded, “Because it never even occured to me.”

One of the fascinating things about being adopted and reunited is that you get to see the ties of genetics and still understand and respect the strength of history. For a lot of my natural mom’s life and the large majority of my natural brothers’ lives, their family unit was each other. For the majority of my life, my family unit was my adoptive parents and my adoptive brother. 

While I share genetics with my natural family and history with my adoptive family, my natural mom and brothers share both genetics and history. I’m not suggesting that makes their bond stronger, but it certainly makes it different. Different enough that I never had a single thought it would be desired or even appropriate for me to visit too. 

For some, that might be sad, but it’s really not to me. The fact is, my natural family shares a history that I have no place in, and while I am excited to create a history with them, there is also a time and place for them to celebrate that history without me. 

As I write this, they are enjoying their last night together for this visit, and I hope they are having a blast!

Becky

Is It Truly Part of My Identity?

Recently, I have been engaging in a series of dialogues about race that a friend started on Facebook. In a recent comment, I started a sentence by noting that I am not a minority, unless you count my Native American blood. My friend responded, “I would definitely count your Native American blood if you truly feel like it’s part of your identity…” and went on to address the substantive part of my original comment. I’ve been mulling over the implied question for a couple of weeks now because it’s bigger than whether my Native American blood is important to my identity. In truth, it’s a question about what, if anything, is important to my identity?

One of the interesting things about not knowing your heritage is that you can be from anywhere. I think it’s one of the reasons adoptees have a tendency to day-dream and make up stories about their origins. If you don’t have a “tie” to the genealogical history of your adopted family, then you can be the long-lost prince or princess who is waiting for the return of the king and queen. And, when you are hurt and confused by the abandonment part of your story, it’s actually pretty cool to envision you are from such an important heritage.

Of course, when the king and queen don’t return, you are left with a stark reality – your family is your family, but their heritage (from a blood line perspective) is not. No matter how many genealogy projects you are assigned by teachers who are understanding when you explain that you don’t know your blood line heritage, the compilation of materials they request that you gather from your adopted family still never really feels like yours. Even if you are proud that your paternal great-grandmother was a full-blood Cherokee Indian, that doesn’t make you a Cherokee. And regardless of whether your maternal blood line can be traced back to European royalty, that doesn’t mean you have royal blood.

As silly as it may seem, I was pumped when my natural dad told me that I have Creek Indian blood in my heritage. And having the names of generations of my natural families made me want to start doing some genealogical research; I even signed up for a free account to search. But then I started thinking – while this is my blood heritage, I was 37 years old when I found it and it’s no more a part of me than the genealogical history of my adoptive parents.

So, here I sit, with two distinct histories – one by nature, one by nurture – and I think it’s somewhat fraudulent to claim either. And that is the very real answer to my friend’s question.

Becky

I am a Selfish Adoptee

As you might imagine, I read numerous blog posts about adoption. It’s helpful to see what other adoptees, natural parents, and adoptive parents say about their respective journeys. Most of the time those posts give me encouragement, but occasionally one will frustrate me. I read one of the frustrating ones about a week ago.

The writer was an adoptee who has been told it is “selfish” to search for members of her birth family. She posted questions that have been posed to her throughout the years, including: “Your adoptive family is so great! Why would you need anyone else?” She also cited an online comment regarding a question posed on Debate.org about adopted children seeking their biological parents without their consent. In short the comment read, “The adopted child should get down on his knees and THANK GOD who intervened on the child’s behalf and provided warm, stable, loving parents…”

If understanding where you come from is selfish…

If knowing your medical history is selfish…

If desiring to have a relationship with people who carry your DNA is selfish…

If wanting to expand your definition of family is selfish…

If hoping to find someone who looks like you is selfish…

Then I am a selfish adoptee. And I wear that moniker with pride because getting to know my natural family equals the blessing I had in being raised by my adoptive one.

For those who regard this as “selfish” in a negative way, I raise this simple question, “Can you ever really have enough connections to people who love you and understand you?” Because that’s what I have in both my natural and adoptive families. And I wish more people had that too!

Why I’m a Control Freak

I’m on vacation this week in Hilton Head, SC. It takes the solitude of a place like Hilton Head to open me up to write this blog post. I’ve been thinking about it for several months, but I just haven’t been able to muster the peace or courage or insanity or whatever it is that I’ve needed to write. Until now.

When I started first grade, I cried every day when my dad dropped me off at school. I don’t mean the tearful goodbye of a little kid who’s going to miss her parents for a few hours. I mean the screaming, holding onto his leg type of crying of a little kid who’s desperately afraid she wouldn’t see him again.

By that point, I already knew I was adopted and that knowledge messed with my world. Before you lash out about telling children too young, I want you to know I forced my parents into the conversation with questions they couldn’t answer without being open about my adoption, and they did a great job of explaining the whole thing. Adoption was and is part of my reality, and my parents felt it was important to acknowledge that fact and I am thankful they did.

It’s difficult for a little kid going to school for the first time not to have irrational fears. But mine were different; they weren’t completely irrational because they were built in some reality. For all the right reasons, my natural parents chose not to raise me. I was told that fact from the first time my parents told me about my adoption.

But when you’re a kid, that means other people can decide not to raise you too, and when I went to school each morning, I was afraid that’s the decision my parents would make while I was at school. I envisioned them just deciding not to pick me up. So I would be “that kid” who sits on the school bench, waiting for someone who is late to get them, but my situation would be different because my someone just wouldn’t be coming at all.

My parents always came, but I still believed it would be possible for them to decide not to and in my head that could happen at any time. All that seems silly now, as an adult, after I’ve heard my natural parents talk about their respective decisions, and witnessed the agony of the decision for my natural mom, who still can’t talk about the whole process without getting emotional.

But who I am at 38 is shaped by who I was at 5, and I like to be in control because it ensures that I will never be “that kid” – physically or emotionally. I protect that part of me with every fiber of my being. I see that 5 year old every time I think about whether I can trust someone. I see that 5 year old every time I consider whether I should reveal my heart to friends and even family. I see that 5 year old every time I think about letting someone else have any semblance of control in my life. I see that 5 year old and I think it’s my responsibility to protect her.

I’ve lived 38 good years on this earth. I have a few close friends, and they are the best I could ever ask for in my life. I have married a wonderful guy, who I love deeply and who loves me despite my weaknesses. I have families (adopted and natural) that I love with all of my heart and who love me.

But I hold part of myself back – even from my friends, and my husband, and my families. And I think they know it. And I think they respect it. And I think they hope one day I won’t. And I think they will love me even if I do. And I think it’s something I want to change. And I think it’s something I may never be able to change. But I’m trying. And I think that’s worth something.

My Brothers and Sister

I spent the last week at Camp Manatawny, a Christian youth camp in Douglasville, PA, working with 7th and 8th graders. On Thursday night, the campers participated in a talent show and some family and friends came to watch. I was mesmerized by one particular family interaction – between a young man and two of his older siblings (a brother and sister). The older siblings looked to be between 5 to 10 years older than their brother, but that didn’t negatively impact their interactions at all. They laughed, hugged, and talked the entire evening, and even cried when it was time to leave. I talked with the camper the next day and found out he’s from a family of 10 kids and that the brother and sister who visited live close to him. As I was wondering why their departure would still be so hard for each of them, he added that he loves his brothers and sisters so much that even though he knew he would see them in a couple of days, it made him cry to see them leave because he enjoys being with them as much as possible.

I’ve been thinking about why this family scene was so captivating to me, and I think I finally determined the “why.” I have an older brother (Shawn, who is a member of my adopted family) and he is the best older brother I could ever imagine. From the time I was brought home, he watched out for me, played with me, talked with me, and made sure I was never left out of any activity – even if that meant taking me to Friday night high school football games in Seneca, SC when he was 17 and I was 10. While our relationship has matured (no more fighting over room in the backseat of the car), it still carries the elements of concern, conversation, and play that it always did. I am lucky to be his “little sister.”

But the “why” doesn’t stop there.

I have two younger brothers and a younger sister (who doesn’t yet know about me). I think as I watched the camper with his family, I realized something I have lost by being adopted – the chance to be the “big sister.” I wasn’t there to help my brothers and sister as they were growing up – to play with them, give them advice, help keep them out of trouble with our parents, etc. I will never have the memories with them that I have with Shawn because we didn’t grow up together. And now, we are all adults and the forging of our relationships will be much more complicated.

Perhaps without having Shawn as my role model, I wouldn’t have been a very good “big sister” anyway. I don’t know. But I do know this – I am a “big sister” and I am proud of my “little brothers” and even my “little sister” who I have never met. And I’m thankful God saw fit to let me have a fantastic big brother and I hope I can be 1/10 as good for my younger siblings as he has been for me.

Meet the Parents: The Parent Edition

In two weeks, I will have a unique opportunity – I will be introducing my parents to my parents. Yep, you read that correctly. My natural mom is moving to WV (so that we can spend more time getting to know each other) and the trip from Pensacola, FL to Parkersburg WV, with its natural stopping point in Nashville, TN, will give me a chance to introduce my mom and dad to my natural mom. Unfortunately, my natural dad (now affectionately known as Pop) won’t be there, but more on that in a minute.

I’ve told several people about this opportunity and the reactions have all been fairly similar:

“Wow! This is cause for a celebration” – true
“Stuff like this only happens in movies” – also true
“God is definitely directing your course” – definitely true

I agree with all of those sentiments, but I am still nervous. Why? Because this is just a little awkward and weird. There, I said it. I’m very excited to have my family meet my family – it’s actually an awesome chance to bring together people who I love and who love me – but it’s also just a little strange. “Mom, meet my mom.” Yeah, I think you see what I mean.

I’ve been doing what I do, which is dissecting the potential reactions of my family members upon meeting each other. Thing is, I’m not sure what will happen. I hope it all goes really smoothly (like my natural mom thanks my parents for raising her baby and they all laugh and cry and that’s that), but what if it all goes horribly wrong? What if there is crazy tension in the room? Yep, I thought about that too and here’s what I’ve got:

1. My natural mom will cry and thank my parents for raising her baby – she’s consistent like that 🙂

2. My dad will talk about the situation – talk about how unique it is and how numerous emotional responses are appropriate – he’s a counselor, so he gets clinical about stuff at times – something that is actually comforting when you aren’t sure how to handle a situation

3. My mom will make small-talk and then distract us from the tension with one of her best desserts – yeah, don’t mock it, you’ve never had her red velvet cake – it’s awesome and very distracting!

As for me, I think I’ll just be standing there thinking, “This is awkward….” which is where my Pop comes into the discussion again. I really wish he was going to be there too – not only because it would be cool to get all the introductions accomplished at the same time, but because he would GET how awkward it is and probably just admit it. Yep, I come by that naturally.

How do I know this would happen? Because when we met the first time, he hit “head-on” the topic of being nervous (“didn’t think I would be but after we made plans, I got a little nervous, though I’m not now” – a sentiment I echoed almost word for word) and why he didn’t stick around when he found out my mom was pregnant (a story that is his to tell, but one that I definitely understand and can even relate to in some ways).

You see, while I CAN react like my other parents would react (except I don’t really cook, so it would be “let’s go get frozen yogurt”), I WOULD react like I think my Pop would – just admit what’s up and see what happens next.

Please be praying that this reunion is just another in the long line of happy reunions that have taken place thus far in my adoption journey. I love all my parents and want them to appreciate each other as well.

And, Pop, if you’re reading this, I will happily buy you a flight to Nashville to bring this event to completeness – and so I can have a “wing man” who gets EXACTLY how I’m reacting to the situation if it all goes horribly wrong.