So, I have two lives. The life I lived as the daughter of my adoptive parents and the potential life I would have lived if I’d been kept. I’m related to the first group by emotional attachment (and a piece of paper) as well as shared life experiences, and to the other group by blood. But I’m finding that it’s not as easy as I’d hoped to integrate the two.
The early search movement, which I wholeheartedly endorse, stressed that having both the adoptive and original families in an adopted person’s life would only increase the amount of love s/he had. But I think many of us have found that knowing both our blood and adoptive families has turned out to be a lot more complicated than that. Now don’t get me wrong. I totally support every child knowing where they come from biologically. No child should ever be left in the dark the way we baby scoopees were with no idea where we came from, just as no child should ever be expected to be completely pain-free over the fact that his or her parents gave him up. The belief that a child will feel no connection to his natural parents and/or will never even think of them is ludicrous.
The adoptee experience leads to endless questions and confusions for so many of us. If we are able to find our first families, we ask, “Are these just blood relatives or are they family?” For most people the two are one and the same. But for an adopted person this forced reconciling of these two lives is part and parcel of our experience. We can’t escape it. Just as many adoptees can’t escape wondering, “Is the adoptive family really my family? Do I really belong? Do the extended members of the family fully and completely accept me?” I sometimes wonder if people choose to adopt so that they have less obligation to the child. I know this isn’t true for all, and I hope not even most adoptive parents, but some adoptive families only consider the child a family member until he or she turns 18 and is a legal adult.
It’s as if my life were a pizza and all the slices fit together to form a near perfect whole, with each slice representing a different area of life–family, friends, career, experiences, beliefs. Well, you get the picture. And then I found my first families and I had to create room in the pie to incorporate them into my life. So I made an opening between two slices and created a wedge. And into this wedge I tried to squeeze a new “first families” slice that would include all these new people, all the new information I was acquiring, and my best estimate of this other life I might have lived. But the problem was when I tried to close the pizza again, it didn’t fit together anymore into one cohesive whole. The pizza pie of my life was no longer round and smooth. It had jagged edges and parts that just wouldn’t fit. And I had no idea how to take all these diverse pieces of my life’s puzzle and make them fit together as smoothly again.
Perhaps those who aren’t adopted can relate to this analogy if they’ve ever been through a sudden death. One minute your loved one is here, and the next they’re gone. Well, the fact that the person is no longer here just doesn’t fit with your view of the world. And what was once orderly is now in complete disarray. A sudden unexpected death forces you to reconfigure your life with this loss, while adoptees have to reconfigure their lives with all these new additions.
Yet with as much trouble as I have putting the various pieces together, how is a person supposed to even attempt this sort of integration when they are prohibited from knowing what and whom they’re missing? Based on the way the laws are now, millions of people will never even have the chance of integrating all the new people and new information at all. The definition of insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Maybe the definition of insanity should include separating a child from his biological origins and expecting him to have no interest in them, and to feel no connection with his own blood kin. To dismiss the importance of this aspect of human existence– knowing one’s biological parents, having blood relatives, and genetic ancestors–is ridiculous. No, it’s offensive and insulting. It keeps a person looking backwards and stuck in the past, and forces an adopted child to live in a fantasy world wondering where the hell s/he came from. And living in a dream world isn’t healthy for anyone.
Even when an adoptee is able to locate and reconnect with her first family, in too many cases s/he feels that s/he has no choice but to keep her two lives separate or risk abandonment again. As Catherine wrote in a comment at an earlier post: The choice becomes: keep quiet and keep the only people you know as family – or speak your truth and become a true orphan. Adoption creates orphans. And then there are so many conundrums. For example, is an adoptee morally required to care for a first parent with whom they have reunited but now have a rocky and troubled relationship? Does an adoptee maintain a relationship with a first mother who won’t reveal the first father’s name? Or is that a deal breaker? And what about when a relinquished family member is not fully accepted as family when a first parent comes to the end of his or her life?
Maybe it’s these endless questions and confusions and difficulty integrating the two families that explains why so many adoptees say they don’t want to search, or say they feel no need to search. It has always puzzled me how anyone would not want to know their own blood relatives–but maybe just being adopted is enough of a row to hoe and that adding more complications into the mix is simply too much. I certainly can’t blame anyone for feeling that way.
But children want their natural mothers. If we didn’t, why would so many people search, especially against such insurmountable odds? As Nancy Verrier* said, “The child probably bonded in utero, and is related biologically, genetically, historically, and perhaps even more importantly, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually connected to his natural mother. “ And I agree with Ms. Verrier that the connection between a child and her biological mother is primal, mystical, mysterious and everlasting. Although I realize that some disagree. In my opinion, the very existence of the search and reunion movement belies the myth of the adoption industry that the adoptive family can completely replace one’s biological kin. It seems to be mainly the non-adopted who want to hang onto this belief.
So please, take my advice: Don’t do this to your child unless there is truly no other option. Don’t set up your child to straddle the fence with one foot in one life and one foot in the other. Being given up for adoption is the most profound abandonment possible, and how confusing and difficult it is for an adoptee to reconcile his two lives. Especially for those of us who were placed in closed adoptions without our consent, or what I liken to an adoptee witness protection program.
And I wonder, with all these difficulties, is it ever possible for an adoptee to establish a harmonious relationship between the life she lived and the life she might have lived? Or is that just a pipe dream? I do wish we could figure out how to help people integrate the two, because I’ve barely got a clue.
*Nancy Newton Verrier, The Primal Wound: Legacy of the Adopted Child, The Effects of Separation from the Birthmother on Adopted Children, 1992