“When did you find out you were adopted?” as the saying goes. If I had a dollar for every time that question was asked of me; the answer is always the same – even when I was very young, “I never didn’t know.” Being adopted is a part of who I am, it was woven in to the thread of my identity; red hair, short, blue eyes, button nose, clumsy, dancer, adopted. My adoption was handled through a private agency. I was born in a private hospital and I was given to my adoptive parents when I was 5 days old. Unlike when they adopted my brother 2 years earlier when he was 6 months old, they had no warning time for me. They received a call from the adoption agency the evening before and were told that they would be getting a NEWBORN BABY the next day! Luckily they lived on a military base and once word got out to all their friends, they had more baby gear than they knew what to do with. My father who was in the US Air Force was sent to another country in the next few months after they got me. So the American Red Cross actually handled the finalization of the adoption and our family lived overseas until I was 4 years old.
The fact of my adoption was always like a novelty to me and I would love to tell people. Then I’d wait see what reaction I would get. I even got in trouble once with my pregnant kindergarten teacher prompting a call to my mom. Apparently she had decided that her growing baby bump deserved an explanation to her class and proceeded to tell us where babies all came from and how we all came to be with our parents. I remember listening to her, and when she asked if we had any questions, I raised my hand and told her that was not how I came to be with my parents. After the call to my mom, she apologized to me in front of the class and explained how adoption works and that yes I did not in fact come out of my mommy’s tummy. I thought the whole thing was pretty funny, but I don’t think my teacher did.
As I grew up and met more people and had friends with large families I became more and more aware of the connections that they shared, physically, emotionally, in all ways. I remember being a bit jealous that I couldn’t see where my red hair or freckles came from, or my blue eyes like my friends could. My brother was tan, had brown eyes and dark hair. I was the exact opposite so people would actually laugh when we told them we were siblings. I know they didn’t mean to be rude, but there were times that it really did hurt my feelings. I didn’t know a lot of other adoptees growing up, so there wasn’t anyone that I could possibly understand how I felt. My brother never wanted to talk about his adoption, to me, or to anyone else. To this day I don’t really know how he feels about it. As a coping method, I decided I needed to create my “story.” I never told anyone about it, but I invented a woman and a man in my mind that were my birth parents. She had similar features to me, but was taller and thinner. She was always crying because she didn’t want give her baby up, but she was too young and didn’t have the money to take care of a baby. She always had on a peach colored dress. There was a father too, but I didn’t think of him nearly as much.
I began teaching dance at a private dance studio in Austin after college. Sometimes I would have as many as 100 students during a year that I would interact with or have in a class. I remember very vividly meeting my first adopted student; it was in the late 80’s. Her name was Victoria and she was from Korea, and was a beautiful little dark haired precious thing, and her parents absolutely adored her. She ended up being my student for the next 12 years. She was the one that pointed out at 4 years old after I was telling her that I was also adopted, that “we were like sisters”. She had the most incredible attitude about who she was. She was so happy and excited about everything. I learned a lot from that little girl. I had found a connection. I am not sure I ever told her though. I had many adopted students over the years, almost all of them were from other countries, Russia, Korea, and China. I really did feel a real sisterhood with them thanks to Victoria.
When I became pregnant with my first child, I was overwhelmed at the information I could not give all of the doctors and technicians asking about my medical history. My parents had been given very little medical information. In 1964, I don’t think medical history was thought of nearly as big of a factor as it was in 1991. Thankfully both of my pregnancies were fine and I was blessed with 2 beautiful, healthy children. The feeling I had when they laid my babies in my arms for the first time was like no other feeling I had ever had in my life. Looking in to their eyes and feeling a connection for the first time in my life to someone else. I saw my blue eyes, I saw my red hair, and I saw my button nose. Watching them grow through the years, I see my big smile, my love for dance, for animals, my sarcasm, and lack of patience. It has been amazing and it was the connection I was searching for.
After I had my second child, the lack of knowledge of what my lack of medical history began to really frustrate me, the thought of them not knowing anything about at least half of their medical history was not ok with me. The internet in 1999 was not as easy to navigate as it is now. But I was able to locate the Confidential Intermediary Program in Arizona on my first search and I hired a court appointed intermediary and within 6 weeks, my biological mother was visiting my home in Austin.
While my reuniting story turned out to be happy and I was welcomed with open arms at almost every avenue. There were so many emotions that came with this process, some I was expecting some I was not and some I didn’t even process completely for several years. It was almost too easy, and too fast and I know there have been many times in my life that it might not have been an all good thing. An adoptee needs to take many factors in to account before embarking on a search, I know many are warned that you have to be prepared for almost any scenario, and there is really no way to know what could be waiting for you. When I was little like I said, my imaginary family centered on my biological mother. It was easier that way. In reality there were 6 half siblings, and their families out there and only one that even knew I existed. My birth father, the one connection I had to all of them, had died of cancer in 1988. And not surprisingly I also had to deal with my children’s emotions that this journey brought about, I remember my 7 year old daughter crying to me that she wasn’t ready to “get rid of her Mimi,” thinking that we were now going to replace her current grandmother with the new one we had just found. My adoptive brother was angry with me for “stirring up drama” he didn’t understand why I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I already had a family and that was all I should need. My mom who always told me she would help me in any way with the search wanted reassurance that this was not going to change anything between us. I could tell her it wasn’t, but no one really knows how something like this was going to make you feel. It was all a lot to take in, and a lot to deal with.
I had to suppress my feelings of excitement to spare other people’s feelings of fear. I had plenty of fear and doubt myself and I had to navigate this new territory with caution. I had to walk on eggshells and I wondered what all these new people were going to think of me. I am sort of an in your face, very opinionated, goofy girl. There was no hand book, bible or website on how to do this, especially not in 1999. I had wild mood swings, self-doubt, and fear of abandonment. I also had a new sense of belonging, the giddiness of having sisters (PLURAL)! And then mourning hit me; it was a shock to my sense of identity, seeing who I almost was, first hand, and then replacing the imaginary with the reality. The imaginary woman that lived in my head was now gone, I had nurtured her and thought of her for so long it was like she died. She really was replaced by someone real, she had a REAL name, she had a story and she had given me life. I really did go through the stages of grief.
Even though what I have discovered about my history has not been exactly what I would have chosen, it is another thread to who I am. I would not go back or do anything different. It is not for everyone, but it was the right choice for me.