Adoption, Hope, Heritage
I’m adopted. I was proud of it as a kid because it made me different and people always asked me about it. What did I know about my birth mom? Why were you adopted? Do you have any siblings? It was cool, at least on the surface.
I remember driving home from a trip to visit my Grandmother. For some reason my sister, who was 22 months older and also adopted, wasn’t with us. Dad was driving the green 1970-something sedan, Mom sat in the front passenger seat, and I sat in the seat directly behind her. From the safety of the back seat, where mom would have to turn around to an uncomfortable position to look me in the eye, I finally found the courage to ask. “Mom, what do you and Dad know about my adoption?” I could see Mom take a breath and she turned a little. “What do you want to know?” I don’t recall what I said then — but I know I wanted to know anything they knew. Every detail. I hated that I didn’t look like anyone. I wondered why I was left-handed and blond. I wanted to know if I had siblings or a father that knew about me. I wanted to know if my mother cried at the drop of a hat like I did and whether she loved sports and ice cream or was afraid of the dark.
So Mom told me all they knew. Very little. The attorney had told them that my birth mom was single and had moved to the Seattle area to work for the phone company when she found out she was pregnant. Her fiancé was Catholic, but had been killed in an accident of some kind. She had gone through classes to become Catholic before they were married, but the accident cut things short. Mom didn’t know if my father ever knew about me. I was offered to another family first. But, the attorney told Mom and Dad that when the family found out I was Irish and 1/32 Cherokee Indian, they decided they didn’t want me — they didn’t want a “mixed race” baby. So, the attorney called Dad at work the day I was born and told him there was this little girl who needed a home. He left work early to tell Mom. They decided to take me. That was all they knew. Who knew whether any of it was true. And, it really didn’t answer any of the questions I had.
A few years later, a guy I dated for a short time while in college, asked me, “So what is your heritage?” I remember it vividly. I lived in a beautiful sorority house. When male visitors would come by to see us, there were only a few places we could visit. The favorite was a small window seat in a small alcove in the front entry of the house. It had dim lighting and had just enough room for two people to sit and visit. When he asked me the question, I thought it was rather harmless and I jumped at the opportunity to share with him my adoption story. When I finished telling that young man my story, such as it was, he said. “Wow. So you really don’t have any heritage.” To him, it wasn’t cool that I was adopted. Not even on the surface. The message of his response, at least as I took it at that moment was: heritage matters, you don’t have one; therefore, you don’t matter. That comment haunted me for years. And, in some ways, I think it became a subtle but significant force behind who I sought to become.
If I didn’t have a heritage, then I would create my own. I didn’t want to ever feel insignificant because I didn’t matter in someone’s eyes. In hind sight, of course, that young man, whose name I even struggle to remember, probably meant no harm.
At 22, I began the search for my birth mom. I attended a meeting hosted by an organization called Washington Adoptee Rights Movement (WARM). I remember it was in this room in a building on the port of Seattle. It was dark and sterile and cold. But a friend came with me, which gave me some comfort. I don’t recall much about the meeting except there was information about searching in Washington. A few people introduced themselves — as birth mothers or adoptees — and told stories of their successful searches and reunions. I felt hope and a longing to know my birth mother. A longing to know my heritage. A longing to thank my birth mother for this life. I could hardly wait.
I also remember a statistic I learned that night — only 5% of birth mothers don’t want contact with their children. Wow. It never dawned on me that my birth mother might be among that 5%. But she was. I did a search, through a confidential intermediary–which is how you get access to closed adoption records in Washington. It took several years to get to the top of the list to be assigned a confidential intermediary, but after that the waiting was less than a year. The intermediary petitioned the court to open my adoption records. Based on that record, she learned my birth mother’s name and eventually found her. She called me the night she made the phone call. My birth mother was terse. She had never known I was a girl. She wasn’t married currently, but had been. My birth father had been the love of her life. There had been an accident. He never knew she was pregnant. No one in her family–including her mother, who was still alive–knew about me. She was never able to have children after me because of complications following my birth. She didn’t want to meet me. She didn’t want to tell me anything. She didn’t want to know anything about me.
I learned a little bit more about her — she was blond like me and about my height and build. She grew up Baptist and was the youngest of seven children. The first and only one to go to high school. Her father had died from heart disease. My birth father was Catholic. One of two children. An athlete. His father had died of TB. The file indicated I was a “mixed race” baby. (are you kidding me, mixed race, really? who isn’t mixed race?). That was my heritage.
I grieved for a long time. I felt a deep sense of loss because I would never know either my birth mom or my birth father. I cried, I was angry, I was hurt. I longed to know them. Deep down, I kept up hope that she would change her mind. I knew she was alive so I had reason to hope.
Several years later, after I had children, I even convinced the intermediary to try to contact my birth mom again. Maybe now she would want to know me.
The intermediary found her again–it took a while, she had changed her name.
But this time, my birth mother slammed the door. It was none of my business. Any of it.
My hope ended. As painful as that was, it was what I needed. I had closure even if I had no information. I was who I was, in part, because I didn’t have a heritage. I needed to move forward and respect my birth mother’s decision.
While I moved forward, it took several years for the pain to fade. A woman’s retreat is where the veil of pain was lifted and I finally found peace. I remember that moment. In a time of reflection, following the events of the day and time spent meeting with a guest speaker, I had an epiphany. I felt a flood of joy and peace come over me and the words, “you are a child of God.” I had heard those words spoken before, but I never really considered their significance to my life. I am first a child of God, and only second a child of a woman who had no room in her life for me or the child of a man and woman who chose to love me and raise me. My heritage was God’s heritage. I can think of no better Father than the one who loves me unconditionally.
While I still rest in the comfort that I am a child of God first, I still carry the old tattered me around. The me who strove to do well, strove to impress, worried about what others thought. The me who worked so hard to create a heritage or legacy that I could claim as my own–seeking the praise and acceptance of others. But I’ve been slowly shedding that weight. I remember that I need to rely on God more and seek His purpose for my life. I stumble with the weight still, but He is present, and He catches me if I look to Him for help.
And, now, I am more certain than I was as a child that being adopted really is cool–after all, it was part of my Father’s plan for my life.