Adopted is Another Word for Wanted
Today’s guest blog post is written by an adoptee, psychologist and hopeful adoptive mother named Amy.
When I came home that first day, my parents could hardly believe I was real. They had grieved their dreams of parenthood, settling on a baby bulldog. My mom had multiple miscarriages due to endometriosis, and was told by her doctor that she couldn’t have a baby. She learned this news while working as a counselor for women with unplanned pregnancies. She never disclosed her personal struggle to become a mom until one night a phone call from a co-worker from the adoption agency would change the course of all of our lives.
The call came in on Friday and they were scheduled to get me Monday. All they knew was that my birth mom had relinquished her rights to her child because she didn’t want to have a child out of wedlock. With no picture, no additional background, they waited with hope, anticipation and love. That weekend my mom had a dream, picturing me exactly as I would appear: 1-month-old, big brown eyes, chubby cheeks, and full head of brown hair. This is the some of the magic of adoption. Adoptive parents feel their child was destined for them.
My mom and dad loved me like they did their biological daughter, Megan, my younger sister who miraculously came into the world 5 years later. I learned early on, however, that biology was only one aspect of family. Since my maternal grandparents were deceased, their friends volunteered themselves as Grandpa and Grandma. Grandpa and I watched hours of Wheel of Fortune and Grandma and I played even more hours of hangman, imprinting on me my love of words, puzzles and most importantly the love they shared through play. We also had “aunts” and “uncles” who were my parents’ friends and not blood related. There was a strong message that family were the people who showed up, were present, and cared for you.
Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, there was little diversity and little exposure to non-traditional forms of family. Today that is all different – with IVF, embryo donation, adoption (domestic and international) – there are many paths to parenthood and many that are openly shared. As a child, I never felt like I had to tell others I was adopted but I also never felt I had to keep it a secret. To tell someone I was adopted felt as ridiculous as telling someone I had two eyes and ears. But then again, I looked enough like my family that it wasn’t obvious to others that I wasn’t their biological child and so people didn’t ask questions. My parents did a great job pointing out the similarities between us and that fostered my sense of belonging. My dad and I shared a similar calm, curious temperament and my mom and I shared humor, confidence and a gregarious nature. My dad and I loved to fish and swim in the lake. My mom and I loved to create art and read together. Sometimes I wonder though if they avoided talking about our differences, for fear I would feel unlike them. I was accustomed to the traditions of my German mom and English dad, but we didn’t talk much about my Irish and Greek background.
I don’t remember being told I was adopted because it was part of my story from such a young age. There was no shock, no outrage, no tears. Finding out that there was no Santa Claus was far more traumatic thanks to a certain know-it-all in my first grade class! My parents did a great job weaving my adoption into my fabric in such a way that I felt I could openly talk about it. I’m honestly not sure exactly how they did it, but I imagine it took a lot of patience, listening intently to my questions and managing difficult worries about what it meant to me to be adopted. I don’t remember any books about adoption or meeting any adopted kids when I was a child. Had those opportunities been there I think that could have been helpful, but it wasn’t necessary for me. Adopted was just another word for wanted, loved, cherished. With that question answered, all the others seemed trivial. But then I entered puberty…
I remember being in middle school, reading Nancy Drew, and thinking it would be a great adventure to discover my birthmother. “Detective Amy” - I thought I was cool – I have two moms I would say! But the reality was my birth mom requested a closed adoption, so I had little info to go on. My parents were told that if my birth mom ever changed her mind, she would reach out to the agency to get information. My parents wrote letters and sent pictures of me to the agency throughout my childhood, just in case. They never wanted my birth mom to doubt her decision or to question whether her daughter was thriving! Witnessing this devotion and gratitude for my birth mom was one of the best things my parents did for me. I loved this woman I would never know. Did I have questions, yes of course! But one thing seemed clear: my birth mom must have really loved me to want something more for me than she could give, and my parents made it their priority to carry out her wish.
My days of playing Sherlock Holmes came to an abrupt ending when my father died of a sudden heart attack. I was 12 years old and I blamed myself, thinking if we hadn’t gone to the video store to pick out a movie, we would have been home to save him. For years, no one could convince me otherwise – my mom, doctors, family. I didn’t feel different before, but I certainly did now.
I was the kid in the 6th grade whose dad died.
I became very protective of my mom after that, understandably. But she didn’t need my protection. In fact, she showed immeasurable strength, continuing to provide a fun, laughter-filled home that my friends still reminisce about. She also showed me the terrible cascades of “what if” we put ourselves through in a protest of losing someone we love. No one was to blame for my dad’s death. Grief can feel like a pounding in your chest where the love once was and has nowhere to go. I grieved my dad and also grieved my birth parents whom I would never know. I didn’t know I was doing that at the time, but it makes sense to me now. Fortunately our family learned to cope with my dad’s loss by focusing on the love and sharing it with each other.
My love for my parents and my birth mom has grown infinitely as my husband Joe and I completed the steps to become certified adoptive parents. With the recent change in New Jersey law, I was able to receive a copy of my original birth certificate. I was surprised to learn my birth mom’s name and some details surrounding her pregnancy with me. I was even more shocked to learn my mom had a stillbirth before me. Given my own infertility issues, I empathized and admired my birth mom in a new way. She chose to courageously carry through a pregnancy with all the fears, trauma and painful reminders that would accompany it.
The courage that comes from everyone in the adoptive triad is really a sight to behold. We’ve connected with other hopeful adoptive parents and parents of adoptive children and listened as they share the complexities of their process. As a child psychologist, I’ve also witnessed so many wonderfully imperfect and beautiful paths to parenthood through foster care, adoption, blended families, assisted reproduction, and so on. We are always learning and thankfully have great people to learn from.
We are going to take a page out of my parents’ guidebook and start sharing his/her adoption story when we are changing diapers and heating up bottles. We will honor the choices of his/her birthparents whether that be a semi-open, open or closed adoption. Adoption is both love and loss and there is room for both. Adoption will not be a taboo word – it will be a word of pride, openness, and feeling. We will be strong in action and gentle with words. We will celebrate our Italian and Greek traditions and immerse ourselves in learning new cultures. We will embrace all of it.