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. 

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

Advertising Children Available for Adoption

I am about to violate almost every best practice I try to follow when posting on my blog because I’m writing:

  • While my thoughts are still not fully formed in my head
  • About an item I perceive as a problem without posting a solution
  • On a topic I suspect may be controversial.

But, I have to write and I have to write now to get the thoughts out of my head so I can enjoy a family and friend day in Pittsburgh, PA watching the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Pirates (sorry, local friends, go Cards!).

A few weeks ago, I was scanning my News Feed on Facebook when I saw a beautiful photo of 3 children that a friend had posted. I clicked on the photo and began reading the caption and came face-to-face with my first advertisement for children available for adoption through a foster agency. Many of you likely read that last sentence and wondered where I’ve been living because this is a fairly common practice (I’ve now discovered), but I didn’t know that at the time and couldn’t believe what I was reading.

I was adopted as a baby, and there were no color photos advertising my birth weight, general temperament, health status, favorite binky, etc. for prospective adoptive parents to scan to determine whether I might be the right choice for them. Nope, my adoptive parents just had to wait and see what turned up when they went to pick me up. I say that to say, I’ve only been in foster care a short period of time and it was while all the paperwork processing was taking place for my parents to adopt me. So, I don’t know the trials, heartaches, etc. that come with being a child in the foster care system and waiting to be adopted while babies seemingly stream through the adoption process with ease (another post for another day).

Yet, I have to think there is a better way to attract prospective adoptive parents than an advertisement that is shared in the newspaper, via websites, and on Facebook. And here’s why…in my research on this trend, I found tons of agencies that take this approach and one such agency project explanation read:

“By photographing these children in their best light, capturing their hope, their vulnerability, their pride, we bring the cause of adoption into the hearts of millions of caring citizens each year.”

As an adoptee, I struggle with many of those concepts. “Best light” gets me because it sets the stage for belief that parents are going to get that “best light” kid and not the one who has legitimate struggles based on their circumstances, which may be why so many foster children have difficulty finding permanent placements with families. “Vulnerability” gets me because it sets up a “savior” complex for the adoptive parents and a “rescued” complex for the child. “We bring the cause of adoption into the hearts of millions of caring citizens” gets me because not all people who would feel “called” to adopt after seeing one of those ads should do so!

But what really gets me, and the reason I had to write this today is one simple matter; think openly and ask yourself where you have seen ads similar to this before? I imagine you will think of the exact place I did – your local humane society. And that’s the part of this that burdens my adoptee mind and heart. Advertising children for adoption in the same way we advertise animals for adoption just seems wrong to me. And perhaps adoption agencies did it long before humane societies did, but for the love of humanity, where was the outcry from the adoption world that taking this same approach for animals was degrading to children? And, if the history is that we did it with animals first (I have to admit I haven’t looked it up because I don’t think my mind can handle the potential answer), then…wow…just wow.

Posted by:

Baby Girl (last name redacted)
7 pounds, 13 ounces
18 and 1/2 inches long
34 cm head size
32 cm chest size
Sleeps on her side with a blanket over her ear
Likes formula
Normal health

(which likely would have been my ad at birth)

Reunion: Year Three

I just celebrated my third year of reunion with my natural family. Well, almost. The anniversary of my reunion with my natural mom was Feb 19; my reunion with my natural dad will be celebrated on April 9. 

A lot has happened in those three years. I’ve been introduced to lots of family members. I’ve been told about others who don’t know about me. I’ve celebrated the birth of new family members. I’ve mourned the death of others. I’ve spent countless hours on Skype getting to know my natural mom. I’ve spent a few treasured hours on my natural dad’s back porch. I’ve awakened on some mornings wondering what in the world I’m doing with a stranger living in my house (for those who haven’t been reading my posts, my natural mom moved into our home to aid in the establishment of our relationship). I’ve awakened on other mornings in awe that I’ve been blessed with this opportunity. 

Despite the monumental nature of all these things, on most days, I just live my life and none of it seems like a very big deal. I have two moms, two dads, three brothers, four nieces, two sisters-in-law, nine uncles, six aunts, and lots (and lots) of cousins. And that just counts my adoptive family and my natural mom’s family. And it’s just my family. No big deal. And, yet, the biggest deal ever. And that’s what three years of reunion feels like to me. 

Becky

Why Are Holidays Difficult for Adoptees…?

An adoption blogger I follow posted that simple question on Christmas Eve morning and asked adoptees to respond. I was too busy to think about the question at the time. My (adoptive) brother and his family were coming to open presents and eat dinner later in the day, and the task of preparing dinner had fallen to Jeff and me because my (adoptive) mom has acute bronchitis. But yesterday, in the still and quiet of Christmas Day, I thought about it, and I share those thoughts now.

I (thankfully) have been in the business of adding parents to my life rather than losing them. Same with siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I have lost (again) all of my grandparents to death, so I do know a little about how that loss feels at holidays. I remember the first holiday after my (adoptive) maternal grandmother died, and it was strange. I could feel her presence because I could still envision her in the places I had always seen her, but the fact remained that it was only my memories compelling that presence. It was oddly comforting in the midst of a harsh reality – I could conjure her presence at will even though she was gone.

I think the reason I have struggled at various holidays throughout my life is because I had no image to conjure of my (natural) mom and dad or the rest of my (natural) family. On days when “family” is a central theme, it’s difficult to not have ALL of your family there, and especially when you can’t even envision them. While I was separated from my natural families on Christmas Day, I now have pictures of them in my mind and could easily envision them enjoying the day. And those pictures, from memories of times we have shared, helped to make my Christmas complete.

Becky

Letters from Carol 1975

In late August, my natural mom and her sisters met at my Grandma Audrey’s house to begin going through her personal belongings. It’s been several months since Grandma passed away, so it was time to start the process. They found some interesting items during their work: pieces of scrap paper with poetry Grandma had written; greeting cards from family and friends; love letters exchanged between Grandma and my grandfather (who passed away prior to my reunion with my natural family); and empty envelopes that looked as if they had been swept up with handfuls of other items and stashed away in a frenzied cleaning effort.

Among Grandma’s things, they found a series of letters that my mom wrote to her family while she was in Memphis, TN waiting to have me; there are eleven letters in total that were written between January and March 1975. The letters were primarily contained in a single envelope with a simple phrase to identify them, “Letters from Carol 1975.” I find the phrase interesting. I know Grandma was very careful to avoid open references to me – especially after my brothers were born – but I suspect there’s more to it than that explanation. I bet if you lived through sending your youngest daughter away to have and then relinquish your first grandchild, it wouldn’t take many words on an external envelope to remind you what was inside. “Letters from Carol 1975” was probably all my Grandma needed to see.

The letters are equally heart-breaking, surprising, and funny.

My mom, not quite 17 when the journey in Memphis began, was terribly homesick. While she frequently mentions how much she likes the foster family with whom she is staying, she also writes a lot about missing the family and her baby kitten, Sebastian.

Mom’s letters also reveal the guilt she felt about the shame it may have caused the family for her to be pregnant. In one striking passage she writes, “It would be foolish to say that I won’t ever disappoint you again but I can say that I’ll never hurt you and Daddy like this again or ever give you cause to be ashamed to claim me as your girl.”

There’s not much mention of my dad, except the part where Mom declares that she’s sure “everything is over between us” and that “if he did come back I’d just slam the door in his face because he’s hurt me enough.” (Sorry, Pop, I know you read my blog, and you know that I have no hard feelings about how things went down with you and Mom, but I think it’s important to share her thoughts – even the difficult ones).

The letters contain a surprising amount of dialogue about my dad’s mom (who passed away prior to my reunion with my natural family), who apparently made quite a bit of effort to stay in touch with my mom, even offering to help support her if she decided to keep me. In one passage Mom writes that my paternal grandmother told her, “Carol, I think about you more than you will ever know. If I can ever help you in any way, let me know because you will always be like a daughter to me. If I had a daughter, I would like for her to be just like you.”

I also was surprised by the fact that the doctor felt my Mom had gained too much weight with me, so she was actually on a diet while she was pregnant with me. This didn’t go over well with Mom who wrote at one point, “I’m putting in an early order for a big stack of pancakes when I get home. JoAnn made some yesterday but I didn’t get any cause their (sic) too fattening. My mouth just watered and watered and I could hardly stand it.”

My favorite light-hearted moments are in two early letters. In one, Mom drew a self-portrait that is basically a stick figure with a huge belly, and she writes, “I’m kinda glad no one there will be able to see me SO big cause that’s hard on my ego. Next time you see me I’ll be my old skinny self again.” In another, she declares, “Mom, I have good news for you. I ate liver! JoAnn fixed it last week and I suffered through it. It really wasn’t too bad.”

For me, the most important parts of the letters reveal Mom’s struggle in deciding whether to keep me or allow me to be adopted. I don’t know how most adoptees feel, but I longed to know that I really was wanted – at least by someone in my natural family. When we reunited, my mom explained that she always wanted me, but just felt she couldn’t keep and support me at the age of 17. Actually reading her words at that age confirmed everything she said to me in the beginning. A couple of very important passages to me include:

  • “I’ve made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and I have to stick to it. I really believe it’s the best for my baby and no matter how hard it is for me, I have to put the baby’s future first.”
  • “I want my baby and I love it so much and because I love it I want to do what’s best for it. If there was anyway that I could give it the kind of life it deserves and needs I would keep it with me. But I’m afraid that I can’t give it the kind of life it should have even though I love it so. I just want to do what’s right…”

Oh, I don’t want to forget the bonus material in the envelope – a photo of my mom on her 17th birthday with a very visible baby bump. That’s me 22 days prior to my birth. It’s pretty cool to have a pregnancy photo of my mom. Most kids have those, but I had given up hope something like that existed. Makes me really happy that Grandma was a pack rat.

Mom and the Baby Bump

Worth the Risk?

I’ve typed and erased the first sentence of this post about fifteen times. This is a post I don’t want to write, but that means I should. So, here goes.

I don’t handle death well. Not because I don’t have faith. Not because I don’t believe in eternity. Not because I don’t believe there will be a resurrection from the dead. But because death is hard. Death is a separation. And I don’t handle separation well – an issue that I understand plagues many adopted kids.

When I was making the decision about whether to reunite with my natural families, one of the major considerations in my “cons” list was the fact that I would open myself up to more separation. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to expose myself to that possibility. I wasn’t sure I would consider it worth the risk in the long run.

Today, the long run got much shorter because I attended the funeral of my Grandma Audrey in Pensacola, FL. For those who’ve kept up with my reunion story, you likely remember that she’s my natural mom’s mom. The sweet little lady that I got as a “bonus grandparent” when I found my mom.

Tonight, in the home of my mom’s friend, as I feel an emptiness in the pit of my stomach, I find myself asking if it’s worth it. I realize it’s a bit late to give that question a ton of thought. I guess I should have made that determination before I committed to this journey. On some level, I think I did. But it was not on the level that I’m working from right now. No, that level was purely a hypothetical, intellectual level. This is real.

When I met Grandma Audrey for the first time, she gave me two gifts – a heart on a chain that I wear everyday and a poem she had written for me shortly after I was adopted. And in our first conversation, she shared with me how she had prayed that I would find my mom and her family before she died and that just when she had given up hope, I came back. She also told me how she had marked my birthday on her calendar every year with an asterisk – a symbol that she chose to remind herself of my birth without risking that my brothers (who did not know about me at the time) would ask questions that my mom wasn’t prepared to answer.

I walked away from that visit with one clear thought – it wasn’t just my mom who loved me all those years (a fact that was well established in our first conversation), it was my Grandma Audrey too. And despite my attempts to maintain a safe distance, I just couldn’t do it. Because how can you not love someone who loves you (sight unseen) through 36 years of space and time?

So, is it worth it? Is the anxiety of loss and pain of separation worth it? As much as I hate those feelings, I have to say “absolutely.” Because memories are worth it. Because family is worth it. Because love is worth it. Because Grandma Audrey was definitely worth it.

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.

Adoption, Search and Reunion, and God

I found out I was adopted very young. I didn’t really know how to handle the whole concept for a while, but as I got older it became a much bigger deal in my life. I would sit for hours and wonder who my natural parents were, what they looked like, what they enjoyed doing, if they had other kids, etc., etc. I had ridiculous thoughts about who they could be and at very trying moments in my adolescence even made up stories about it – which I understand is common among adopted children, but it makes me no less embarrassed and remorseful.

After I turned 18, I thought about starting the search process, but I ultimately decided against it. Repeat process at 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24 years of age. At 25, I decided to take the first step and retrieve non-identifying information about my natural parents. I found out a few facts in that process, and the information satisfied me for a while, but then I needed to know more. So I started the search and reunion process through the State of Tennessee on several occasions, ultimately stopping each time because I felt like the door to that part of my life was closed.

At 38 and two years into the search and reunion process, I see things a little differently and that’s what I want to share today. I’m going to put the rest of this post in bullets because the thoughts are varied and it may help me keep common thoughts together.

  • Information and relationship aren’t the same thing. For a long time, I truly believe I just wanted information about my natural parents. I wanted facts and figures, but I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I needed to know who I looked like, but didn’t necessarily want to see myself in that person on a daily basis. I wanted to know where my personality traits came from, but didn’t necessarily want to add another person to my circle of family and friends. I thought it would be cool to meet my natural parents, but didn’t necessarily want to invest the time and energy it would take to heal any wounds from our separation. Information is easy. Relationship is not.
  • I have repeated the same process with God. The interesting thing about having parents you’ve never met is that you can make them into whatever you want them to be. You can create the best pictures or the worst pictures depending on your mood on that particular day. And when you get information about them, you can begin to feel satisfied just knowing some facts and figures. After all, reconciling with a mom and dad who decided to relinquish you (and their parental rights) to another family would be messy and painful. At various points in my life, I’ve felt that exact same way about God. I knew all the facts and figures, but I hesitated to really know God because that meant I had to give something of myself. I had to deal with my feelings of anger and resentment about times I felt like he abandoned me. I had to address what appeared to be contradictions in his nature. I had to do something in response to his desire for a relationship with me. And that’s just not easy all the time.
  • Reality is better than imagination. Developing relationships with my natural parents and other members of my natural families has been one of the most deeply rewarding experiences of my life. My natural parents are actually way cooler than any picture I created of them. And once I decided that I wasn’t going to hold my natural parents accountable for decisions they made when they were teenagers, the whole concept of search and reunion changed for me. I began to embrace the potential of having a relationship with each of them and moving forward. I still have questions about the past, and I ask those when they surface in my mind, but there are no wrong answers. Just honest answers.  And that makes the reality of relationship with them better than anything I imagined. The relationships aren’t perfect, but they are real, and that makes them as close to perfect as human relationships will get.
  • I want to get better about relationship with God. I’m not sure how much I really know God versus imagine what he’s like and have information about God versus having relationship with him, but I think it’s time to address that situation. Because he is perfect and whatever I imagine about him pales in comparison to how awesome he really is and that’s exciting to me. So I think it’s time I started a search and reunion process with God. If you are interested in joining me, let me know.