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:
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!
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.
Forty years into my life as an adoptee and three years into my life as an adoptee reunited with natural family, I have come to an interesting revelation. I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood the concept of forgiveness. Yes, I’ve experienced wrongs against me, and I’ve addressed those matters with people, and I’ve said “I fogive you” and I think I have forgiven them, but I’ve never had to forgive something really big in my life. Until now.
Here’s the thing about being adopted. Your story always begins with someone (in my case, two someones) giving you up. We use a ton of fancy words for it and provide lots of affirming explanations for why it happened, but the fact is your beginning is an end. And endings are painful, even if they are for the best. And for me, the pain was real. Often unspoken. Frequently ignored. Rarely understood. Always stuffed down. But real. Because no matter how much I believed that my natural parents loved me and did the best they could for me in allowing me to be raised by other people, I still felt abandoned. Not worth choosing. Not worth fighting for. Hurt. And those feelings don’t go away easily. Depsite the fact that my natural mom gave up her whole life in FL and moved to WV to build a relationship with me. And despite the fact that my natural dad has opened his heart/mind to a relationship with me. And despite the fact they both tell me and show me that they love me. The hurt fades, but it doesn’t disappear.
So, now I think I understand a little more about forgiveness. Because some days, I look at my mom (and my dad) and still feel the pain of a child relinquished. I still feel the hurt (though not as strongly) that has marked an internal struggle for my entire life. And I think how easy it could be to write her (and my dad) off as the source of all that hurt. But then I look in her eyes (and his too) and see the person who lives with the pain of having hurt me and I think about the relationship we have already forged, and the hope of that relationship growing. And I think forgiveness is the only way that I can get out of my own way to enjoy relationships with people that God gave me as family and has blessed me with an opportunity to make that mean more than just sharing genetics.
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.
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.
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.