My name is Paige Adams Strickland, and I’m a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m also an adoptee from what we now call The Baby-Scoop Era, and I’ve written a book called Akin to the Truth: A Memoir of Adoption and Identity. It’s about growing up in an era of closed adoptions, sealed records, falsified information and all the shame and stigma associated with those practices.
In the 1960s and 70s, in this country, the status of being adopted was like wearing a Scarlett Letter ‘A’ on my soul. No one discussed it. To my knowledge, there were no other adopted children around with whom to relate. It was like being camouflaged out in the open. You just don’t go up to people and say, “Hi! Are you adopted too?” so I lived with this unmentionable label and lots of guilt for wishing it wasn’t a secret and wanting to know more about what happened to my biological parents and me years ago.
It took years to come out of my adoption closet and realize, “Hey! I’m not a freak. I want to know what went on back in 1961, but I’m OK anyway.”
Searching for my birth family was a huge accomplishment, and not just because of the work it took to locate and contact them. It was also the process of accepting myself as an adoptee and knowing that this isn’t something to be sad or ashamed of. No one was going to bully me on the playground as an adult, so it was time to “come out” with it.
The book writing began in 2002 as a way to explain to my children about who was who in my very large family. My daughters were at that “tween” age and just becoming aware that they had 19 first cousins and that I had six siblings I never grew up with and one that I did. I began writing one summer vacation, and the project took off after that. It became more than just a listing of all the people in the family, and how they were related to me. I started telling stories about the things we did and what life was like in the days when everyone wanted striped rugby shirts, wore tube socks and gold chains, grew big hair, read 16 Magazine and watched The Brady Bunch on television.
I saw a trend in my writing as the stories unfolded. Two trends, actually: I was linking a lot of my thoughts and life events back to being an adopted kid, and I was slowly unveiling the unique father-daughter relationship I had with my very quirky and emotional, troubled yet caring dad who raised me. I shared some of my writing with my local writers’ group and realized I had a book developing. I wanted my kids to have a better knowledge of many wonderful people who were a part of my life growing up. I also wanted them to fully realize their heritage since my being adopted had a bearing on part of their ancestry as well. In that way, my kids were my first inspiration for writing Akin to the Truth.
In addition, I wanted to reach out and share with other adopted people. Every one of us has a unique story of how we’ve wound up where we are and with whom in our lives. We’ve all experienced amazing and unexplained chains of events which have lead us on our adoption, search and reunion paths, but universally, regardless of having good or bad times along the way, many adoptees live with a yearning and a curiosity to find out about our past. It’s like a motor that never stops. We go and go until we know.
If something like closed adoptions or sealed birth records exists, it doesn’t make the motor stop. We create films, write blogs, compose music and reach out to other adopted people through our art and our efforts to communicate truthful information. We hold on to hope that non-adopted individuals will one day understand what our lives are like with that great, big ‘A’ branded into our psyches.
It’s both a blessing and a curse, and it’s up to us how we choose to focus. As adult adoptees, our next huge challenge isn’t how to accept life as an adopted person, it’s how to share our experiences with folks who are not adopted so that shame is lifted and future laws become more just. That’s part of my writing plan.
I’ve never been in the military or gone sky- diving. I’ve heard stories and watched movies about other people who’ve experienced these things first hand, but it’s not the same if you don’t live through it. It’s similar with being an adoptee. Successfully and eloquently communicating what having been adopted is like has been another purpose for writing Akin to the Truth. In addition, I have several articles, essays and my follow-up memoir-in-progress about adopted life as a parent, worker and friend.
Adoption never leaves your side; the good parts and the not-so-good parts are always there. It’s how we deal with it that counts from here on, and I choose writing as my outlet. Writing about adopted life has also connected me to many interesting and supportive fellow adoptees and writers in general. I am very thankful to have a community of like-minded friends and colleagues, which is another bonus I never expected from writing a book about finding my truth.
My advice to fellow adoptees is simple. Even if you never find all the concrete facts about your start in life, finding a common bond with uplifting support from a circle of adoption-related friends and acquaintances is very beneficial. You never know where a new lead might come from.