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

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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

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

National Adoption Month

It’s National Adoption Month! If you didn’t realize that, no worries. I didn’t know it either until a few days ago when I was catching up on posts from other adoption-related blogs I follow. After I engaged in a bit of self-shaming internal dialogue about my failure to recognize the significance of this month, I continued to read post after post from adoptees who sounded downright angry about this special recognition. The writers frequently referenced a hash-tag mantra (“FlipTheScript”) and I grew more curious about the vitriol that seemed to drip from each post.

That’s when I saw it – the official presidential proclamation about National Adoption Month. And, that’s when the frustration and anger I had been perceiving made perfect sense. The first paragraph reads:

Every year, adoptive parents welcome tens of thousands of children and teenagers into supportive and loving families. These mothers and fathers provide their sons and daughters with the security and stability of a safe environment and the opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve their full potential.  During National Adoption Month, we honor those who have opened their hearts and their homes, and we recommit to supporting all children still in need of a place to call their own.

I guess I’ve always known that the adoption story most often focuses on the adoptive family. After all, they are the ones willing to step in and make a child part of their family. It’s a good story. And I was blessed to have one of those families, so I don’t want to appear ungrateful about what adoption does for kids.

But, there are some key people in the adoption “triad” missing from much of the story as it’s told traditionally. And I, like many of my fellow adoptee bloggers, believes it’s time to put more focus on those people. For every adoptive parent we applaud, we should consider the emotional turmoil experienced by many parents who choose to relinquish. For every story we tell of the blessing of children being placed with a family, we should consider that many of those children will still deal with feelings of loss and abandonment and may have a desire to know their natural family regardless of how amazing their adoptive family may be.

There’s so much more to the adoption story than a child being placed with a family. And I agree it’s time to “Flip the Script” and talk about the entire story and all of its characters.

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

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.

Would the “Real” You Please Stand Up?

A winter wonderland has descended upon the Mid-Ohio Valley. Our church is one of many that cancelled services today, so I’m sitting in my recliner with a warm blanket while Jeff is checking Facebook in his office and my mom (Carol) is reading a book. The quiet is nice, though my mental peace was interrupted a few minutes ago by a blog post I saw on Facebook.

The gist of the post was that “Duck Dynasty” is fake – not just the parts of the show that the family has admitted over and over are scripted – but that the people themselves are fake. Before you start to worry this is going to be a “Duck Dynasty” rant and stop reading, don’t worry, that’s not where this is going. But, I do need to tell you about the other blog post before I can get to my point, so stay with me. The “evidence” used to support this claim primarily comparing photos of the Robertson men without beards to photos of the Robertson men with beards. A few jumps in logic from there, and voila, the Robertson men (and their entire families) are fake. While I am hoping that particular blog post was a bit of sarcasm that I missed, I’ll continue to my point anyway.

When did it become our role as humans to deem other humans fake? Especially when we base the judgments on something as simple as their exterior appearance? When I worked at a university as their in-house lawyer, I dressed up every day. For those of you who know me well, you know that was a chore because I much prefer to wear blue jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. But I did dress up to match the expectations of my employer. Does that mean I was fake then? Does it mean I am fake now because I typically wear my preferred wardrobe? Does it mean I am fake when I meet with clients and dress up to match their expectations?

Most of us have many layers, and even those of us who insist that we are the same with everyone no matter what, would be hard-pressed to support that argument to its logical conclusion faced with complex situations. We may have a certain style that is most comfortable for us, but I suspect we dress differently for certain situations based on external expectations. We may generally be open about who we are, but I suspect we tell our best friend things we would never tell strangers. We may have an opinion about something today, but I suspect we would be open to change that opinion tomorrow in the face of new facts to consider.

People are complicated and life situations make us more so.

When I finally decided to seek out my natural family two years ago, part of my journey was designed to help me gain understanding of who I am. I clearly knew how my adoptive family impacted me, and my friends, and my co-workers, and the various people who had been put in my life to that point, but I didn’t know how my natural family had impacted me. I am beginning to discover those things now, and I suspect it is shaping me. Does that mean the pre-reunion Becky was fake? Or perhaps it means the post-reunion Becky is fake?

I say it’s all me. Granted, it’s an evolution of me, but it’s still me.

I wish we would give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume we are all the “real” us. Does that mean we will sometimes look like we contradict ourselves? Probably so. Does that mean that we will reveal more of ourselves to some and not others? Likely. Does that mean some will like us and some won’t? I’m guessing so.

But we all need to give ourselves and each other room to evolve. Humans aren’t meant to be static. We are meant to grow. People, places, and circumstances alter us and that’s what it means to be human.

So, go out and be you. Some people will hate it, but some people will love it. And those who hate it don’t need to see your multi-faceted layers, and those who love it should see those layers. And you can rest in the knowledge that you are real and anyone who says otherwise is just going through their skeptical phase as a human and you can pray for them to get over it – quickly.