This essay is the first in a series, as I share the journey of locating the missing links in my adoptee life. If you are an adult adoptee or have one in your life, this is for you. xoxo
When your baby book says, “for the adopted child,” it’s a set-up for a life full of questions. While this book’s title inspired my creativity and a passion for storytelling, the unintended consequences were the reminders of what didn’t make sense. All that I didn’t know.
Throughout my youth and into my twenties, making up stories about my birth-parents occupied my mind, especially during holidays and on my birthday. There were so many questions and even more made-up stories as I attempted to ease my mind and find a way to have the pieces of my life come together in a way that made sense.
I thought of my birth parents often. Who they were, what did they look like? What were their talents and interests? Were they athletic or creative? Were they tall like me, did they have blonde hair and big feet? I wondered why they didn’t raise me themselves. Maybe I was a twin, and they kept my sibling while giving me away.*
*The phrase “giving me away” should be avoided when discussing adoption. This phrase dehumanizes the adoptee. We give away things, not people. I’m using it here to show how one of the stories I was making up about my adoption fed into my belief that I was not worthy. A belief that haunts me to some extent, even today.
Altered Birth Certificates
As is typical, my birth certificate is not my original birth certificate. Mine shows my parents’ names who adopted me, along with all the statistical information, minus the crucial detail of whether I was a single birth, twin, or triple. The absence of a checkmark confirming I was a single birth always made me wonder and was the impetus for my story about being a twin.
When I learned about the research studies conducted in the 1960s through the 1980s where twins were separated at birth to study them, the knowledge made the story I created about the possibility of being a twin even more plausible.
The story also gave me something to hold on to.
When you know little to nothing of your history, you’ll hold on to anything that has a chance of connecting you to the life and people you’ve never known but who hold the answers to who you are and where you come from.
The people who adopted me were loving, kind, and generous. They wanted me immensely, and becoming a family was what each of us needed. My parents gave me a good life. From the 29th day of my life, until each of them took their final breath, we were a family. They were and always will be my parents and I miss them dearly.
Still, no amount of positive experiences or love shared changes the fact that we were not genetically related. Their heritage was not mine. Their medical histories offered nothing to guide my children’s or my health care decisions.
From doctor visits to field trip permission slips and more, I’ve answered questions about our health history with two words hundreds of times throughout my life.
Those words were my history. And every time I had to answer the question, it reminded me of the missing links to my identity. The word adopted became synonymous with not worthy and doesn’t belong, despite growing up with parents who loved and adored me.
All I knew about my birth parents was that they were young, early in their college careers, and Norwegian. And through those small details, I grew up knowing only one tiny piece of my identity.
I was 100% Norweigian.
Except that I wasn’t, as I discovered in my mid-twenties. Suffering from medical issues, I reached out to the adoption agency for my family health information to guide my doctors. There was nothing to offer, other than additional details about my heritage.
At that moment, I learned I wasn’t who I believed I was.
The only piece of my identity I knew was gone in an instant. No one understood how I felt. No one could relate. When you grow up in a family where you look like someone else and know your history, there are no missing links. You already know how you fit. Adoptees deserve to know how they fit, too.
The Adoptee’s Voice
Unfortunately, the adoptee’s voice is too often silent. It’s essential for those who are part of the adoption triad* as well as those who are not impacted by adoption to understand what an adoptee experiences and feels because understanding brings rise to compassion.
*The phrase “adoption triad” refers to the three parts of adoption: the biological or birth parents, the parents who adopt, and the adoptee.
For the individual who has grown up without knowing who they are, where they come from, and why a deep-seated fear of abandonment interferes with their relationships and ability to fit in, sharing our story is healing.
And it’s not just about us.
Sharing these stories allows others to know they’re not alone, they’re not the only ones, and they’re not crazy. When you can see yourself and your lived experiences through someone else’s, the pieces of your life start to make sense, and the spark of hope to find your missing links and yourself burns bright.
In the end, each one of us, adopted or not, needs a place to belong.
Thank you so much for sharing yourself…your heart, your soul and your reality. You have shone a light I, for one, am delighted about and look forward to learning more and more about. Families are created in a variety of ways and I am happy we can call each other family.
With much love “Step” Sister!
Lisa, there is so much that is unknown to so many. I appreciate your willingness to learn.
Much love to you. xoxo
Elaine Sill Sanderson
Eloquently said, Ann, it is both calming and exciting to identify with similar early childhood memory. I will never forget the day I and my sister heard my mom tell the checkout lady “they are adopted”. It was always a routine when we were shopping and people commented about “the milkman” and they’d laugh with my mom. I never understood what that was all about until then. My two sibling were also adopted all of us from different birth parents. Brother and I could pass for natural offspring but sis was blonde, blue eyed, dark complected, and not at all exemplary of a little Polish girl. I guess mom just got tired of people insinuating she was a wanton woman!!!
Thanks for reading and sharing a piece of your story!