Ah, it’s November. My all-time favorite month for good food and good company as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Unfortunately, November has also been co-opted by the adoption industry with their “National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM)”. I do find it odd that a whole month has to be devoted to making people aware of adoption. I mean, really, aren’t most people already familiar with adoption? Is it really something that large numbers of people don’t know exists…hard for me to believe.
Since we in adoption reform and adoptee rights have a somewhat (cough, cough) different perspective on adoption, we want to continue our theme of telling adoptee’s stories. It is imperative that we continue speaking out and educating people that adoption is far more complex and difficult, with oftentimes lasting negative consequences, than the win-win portrayal American society usually uses to promote it.
In that vein, today we have a guest post from Ms. Gloria Oren, an adoptee from the Baby Scoop era. Gloria has written a memoir, Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for her Roots, and is having a virtual book tour from November 1 through November 22, 2016. The excerpt we have chosen highlights one of the important themes from that era, and one that other adoptees say they are familiar with. Although if there’s one thing we know about adoption, it’s that no two people have the exact same experiences nor respond to their experiences in the exact same way.
Here is what happened to Gloria. We hope you enjoy reading what she has to say, and please take some time to see more of her work at http://gloriascorner.com/.
Everything was going well. That fall I started nursery school
and made new friends. I loved going to school and learning
things like colors, shapes, numbers, and letters. Then I had
to have a tonsillectomy. Later on, my firstborn suffered from
recurrent strep throat infections. By then it was no longer
common to do tonsillectomies if the doctor could avoid it.
Funny thing is I don’t remember eating lots of ice cream; I’m
sure I did. Guess it wasn’t as important to me as what mommy
told me after I recovered, “The doctor said you fought the
anesthesia and, as a result, went through the whole procedure
with open eyes although you were completely asleep.”
Going through surgery, asleep yet with open eyes haunted
me for many, many years. It played a major part in the anxiety
I experienced later when I faced my first major surgery. There
was no real reason to fear open eyes, asleep under anesthesia
anyway, but fear I did to the extent that my body shook just
thinking about it. When I brought it to the attention of my
surgeon, he shrugged it off as nonsense, claiming never to have
heard of something like that happening. But why then would
mommy say such a thing? Why would she want to frighten
me? He tried to reassure me everything would be okay. It was,
and I came through just fine.
Life continued as usual until one specific significant day
I will never forget. It was a major turning point between a
stable, normal childhood (even one with older parents), which
I assumed mine was, to one laden with questions, confusion,
and a sense of being different.
Joseph Goldstein, in his book Beyond the Best Interest of the
Child, wrote that many adoptees learn of their adoption in an
unexpected manner, and so it was in my case.
I noticed a piece of white paper sticking out of our mailbox
while playing downstairs in the lobby with my friends. I
pulled it out and opened it. Someone wrote something on it,
but unable to read yet I called out “Be right back,” and ran
upstairs to mommy. I banged on the door jumping up and
down calling, “Mommy, Mommy, open. I found something.”
Mommy rushed to the door and let me in. She took the
note from my hand.
“Mommy, read it! What does it say?”
She stood there. Silent. From her facial expression, I was
unsure what to make of it or to expect. My stomach must have
felt as if tons of fluttering butterflies invaded it. Nervous and
scared, I still wanted to know what the note said. “Mommy,
Mommy what is it? What does it say?” I persisted.
Mommy didn’t want to tell me. But, she had to decide
quickly whether to make up a story or to tell me before
someone else did. She seemed afraid of something, which
made me even more anxious. She took a deep breath and
decided, to be honest.
“Let’s go sit down, and I’ll tell you,” she said, taking my
hand and leading me to the couch.
We sat down on the arc-shaped, dark green upholstered
couch in the living room, and mommy began “The note says,
‘You’re an adopted brat’,” and then paused, perhaps waiting to
see my reaction.
I turned to her with a puzzled, confused look on my face. I
didn’t understand what either adopted or brat meant, but she
“Though you were adopted, you were and are very much
loved. You’re by all means not a brat,” Mommy paused.
“What’s adopted? What’s a brat?” I asked.
Holding my hand and staring straight into space, trying
to avoid this conversation, mommy continued hesitantly.
“Adopted is when a baby is born to another woman, not your
mommy. Your birth mother gave you to mommy and daddy as
a gift to raise and to cherish you as if you were born to me. A
brat is an ill-mannered, spoiled child.”
“Who was the lady I was born to?” I asked.
Turning to me, with a serious look, mommy went on, “Your
birth mother was a teenager. After you were born, she left the
hospital to return home with her mother. Daddy and I took
you home, and you became our daughter.”
I knew mommy was serious and perhaps frightened, she
added one last thing, “Don’t tell anyone about this. You must
keep your adoption a secret. No one is to know you were
adopted. Do you understand? You’re not to say a word about
Confused I asked, “Why is it a secret?”
“Because…and I don’t want you to tell anybody about it. A
secret is not meant to be shared.”
That was it. All the information mommy ever gave me
about my adoption—those few simple sentences. Confused, I
wondered what was so terrible that mommy knew and didn’t
want me to know. This was the only time we discussed my
adoption. I never dared to ask anything else then or later (well,
except for one more attempt when I was eighteen, which went
no better), though the questions nagged at me as I grew up. I
was afraid. It was a secret, after all, and had to stay that way.
I went back to playing with my friends. They asked what
the piece of paper was all about and where I’d gone.
“Somebody left a note saying they’d come to visit later.
While I was upstairs mommy gave me some milk and cookies
so it took a while,” was my reply.
I didn’t tell them what happened or what the note said. It
was a secret.