how adopted children feel

Kept people have birth stories. These stories include prequels like “how I met your mother” with all sorts of evidence in the form of pics, vids, and even eye witness accounts.

Adopted people do not have birth stories. At least not those of us from the Baby Scoop Era of secrecy and shame. We have acquisition stories. The procedural lists our adoptive parents were given. Lists of hoops they had to jump through. Fee schedules for adoption agencies and lawyers, leading up to the thrill-filled event of the hand off in an office somewhere, and our arrival in our new homes where strangers were tasked with the chore of establishing bonds with a baby, who is already bonded to someone else.

One of the things I had hoped searching for my natural mother would do is provide me with a birth story. A real one. Not the adoption journey story that fills that gap currently, but one like the story I tell my daughter.

My adoptive mother tells a story that is really about her finding resolution at the end of her infertility journey.

“The day the letter arrived from the adoption agency telling us you were on the way, I was helping your aunt and uncle move into their new house. You remember that house, don’t you? The letter was waiting for me when I got home. I remember the date because it was the same day Kennedy died. Everyone was so sad, but I was so happy.”

My adoptive parents collected me from the orphanage where Catholic Charities had their offices. The director handed me to her. The director who was my adoptive dad’s high school friend. There was a stop off at their parish church to get me baptized right after, and picture of me under the Christmas tree with a little bow on my blanket as soon as they got me to their house.

“It was so cold that day, and you cried and cried,” she said. “And then we brought you home.”

I have often wondered why they had me baptized thesame day. I think it was so they had a document with my new name on it right away. Like a title to a new car.

But that’s been my “birth story” all my life.

The story I would piece together on my journey to reunion was a different kettle of fish from the story I’d grown up with, and the one I was hoping to find.

My natural parents met in high school. Dad had dropped out for a year but decided to return to finish his senior year and get his diploma. Mom was in her first year.

I have asked my dad, but he doesn’t remember the circumstances of their meeting given the decades, two wives. and a multitude of children in between. He just remembers she was kind and liked to dance. They dated for almost two years. Her family did not approve of him. He was poor, but he was also not Catholic, and my mother’s family prided themselves on their cafeteria Catholicism. He rode a motorcycle in a “gang”. Raced cars. He says it’s not as romantic as it sounds but admits the life he and my mom led as teens was probably more American Graffitti than not. Cruising. Drive ins. The swimming hole at the quarry. Parties that lasted all weekend long when someone’s parents were away.

Mom broke up with him quite suddenly in early 1963 to date the best friend of her older brother, according to my dad’s version of the story. Mom died in 2014. She never told my younger brother about me, so there was never an opportunity to get her side of things.

I can believe she broke up with him. I suspect it was under family pressure. Her brother and his wife didn’t approve of my dad. Her parents found him unsuitable as a future husband. It says a lot about her, and her situation, that she defied them for so long.

However, my parents continued to “hook up”.

“We’d meet at Dave’s house on the weekends. His parents had a cottage at the lake and went there all the time.”

My uncle’s wife tells the story of them finding out my mother was pregnant this way.

“We had went to tell Carol she was going to be a grandmother, and she just nodded at Janet and said, ‘Well guess who else is pregnant?'”

This story, however, makes no sense because my cousin is two months older than I am. My mother is unlikely to have realized she was pregnant at the point which my Uncle and his wife were announcing their own.

The truth is still part fact and part fill in the gap with the most logical guesses for me, but I know my mom didn’t graduate from high school. There are plenty of clues pointing to the fact she fully expected to do so and her pregnancy derailed it totally.

At some point, it became clear to her she wasn’t going to be able to marry my father. He claims he knew nothing about her pregnancy and for the moment, I am taking him at his word. So the story as I am going to relate, is based on his not knowing.

My mother had what was known as a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized, which is why she didn’t graduate as she intended. She wasn’t able to finish the last month of school and, of course, my grandparents preferred allowing her to be labelled a drop-out rather than asking the school to allow her to finish up her remaining coursework while she was recovering.

What I know about being hospitalized for depression is that you need to be a danger to yourself before they take that step. So it’s very likely my mom was suicidal. When I asked my cousin how her mom and dad didn’t know my mother was hospitalized, she offered up a variety of excuses, but there’s really no universe in which your baby sister threatens to kill herself and your parents don’t let you know about it.

My best guess, based again on the information I have, and what I know about my mother’s family and their attitudes, is that my mother was told my father didn’t want to marry her. She was then told she had to put me up for adoption and to drive that point home, she was told the family would in no way support her if she tried to keep me.

At three month pregnant, my mother was put in a home for unwed mothers run by Catholic Charities in a city over an hour away from where she lived. There was a Catholic Charities home in her hometown, and I know this because my younger adoptive brother was born there, but for appearances sake, it was unlikely her family would have considered it. They didn’t want people to know.

People, of course, knew. Girls who “went away” were pregnant, and everyone knew it.

My mother spent the remainder of her pregnancy alone and under the supervision of a psychiatrist. The latter was a good idea, but when the adoption search social worker at Catholic Charities told me about this, and the quite severe depression my mom suffered while she was there, I was appalled at how ethically challenged and completely immoral that was. She was clearly in no frame of mind to be making any decisions about me, and yet they let her do it anyway. Encouraged her probably. It’s disgusting, and I don’t know how anyone involved could look at themselves a mirror and think they were doing “god’s work” unless their god was some sort of monster.

Least you think still believe Catholic Charities was a charity, and not a child trafficking organization for profit, the maternity home was a ward in the hospital overseen by the Catholic church. The teens and young women were monitored and if they couldn’t afford the room and board ($145 a month, which is $1,329. 81 in today’s money), they were given jobs in the hospital to work off their debt. My younger sister’s natural mother recalls being made to work in the laundry. According to the information I have, my mom probably worked in the cafeteria as she apparently designed the holiday place mats for Thanksgiving that year. The social worker told me my mom was very worried she wouldn’t be able to pay off her debt to Catholic Charities as she still owed them money at the time of my birth. All I can think about is what a bunch of fucking, money-grubbing ghouls. Planning the whole time to sell me and making my mom pay them for the privilege of having her baby disappeared forever into someone else’s family.

Four days after I was born, my mother signed away her parental rights. The social worker thinks she probably saw me. Maybe even spent time with me. This was not common as babies were generally taken away right after birth and most mothers had no idea of their babies genders even. But, my mother named me, which is a clue to the fact she likely saw me. At least once.

My mother also left a lot of breadcrumbs in the information that is in the adoption file I am not allowed by law to access personally. Information about her family and my father’s family, which proved invaluable when I was using Ancestry to try and track her down.

My adoption was finalized 14 months after I was born. Unlike some adoptees, aside from the 12 days in the orphanage, I was never in foster care. I went straight to my “forever” home. Like a puppy.

My mother was taken to the Greyhound station where she put herself on a bus and travelled home without me. I don’t know if anyone was waiting to pick her up. Maybe. Both her parents visited her at intervals while she was in the maternity home. Her parents were separated. Had been for years. I am not sure how united they were in making sure she couldn’t keep me, but it appears to be one of the few things they agreed on.

Not quite a year after I was born, my mom married. He was a musician. His band, in fact, is in the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is technically my younger brother’s father but according to newspaper accounts, mom was running around partying with other guys (she was picked up at the quarry swimming hole for underage drinking) the summer my brother was conceived and subsequent newspaper articles citing her ex-husband as a deadbeat who wasn’t paying child support appear to support the fact he didn’t father my brother at all.

It’s not at all unusual for natural mothers in the Baby Scoop Era to go on and have another “illegitimate” child fairly soon after the one they were forced to give away. That was my mom and my younger adoptive brother’s mom too. His mother had another boy just two years later, whom she also gave away. But it’s also not unusual for mothers to never have any other children.

According to my brother and my cousin, my mom went into a depression every year right before my birthday. Of course, my brother never knew why, and she never told him. Every year though, for the rest of her life, she mourned me like I was dead. The cruelty of that is something I will never forgive. Not the adoption agency, her parents, my uncle and his wife, my own adoptive parents. They did this to her and to me because reasons.

One thing I have noted in both versions of my birth story is they doesn’t centre on me at all. I am an afterthought at best.

I have never looked forward to my birthday. My adoptive dad always got the date wrong because in his mind, I was born the day they got me, so birthday cards were always closer to that day than the actual day. To their credit, my adoptive parents never allowed Christmas to overshadow my birthday as it has a tendency to do, but that’s about the only props I will give them in terms of commemorating the day.

For me, my birthday is about loss. What I lost. And I am only just beginning to be able to quantify that in tangible terms. My birth story is just one of the things I lost and will never really be able to recover.

It’s been almost three years since I learned my adoptive parents knew my natural mother’s full name, age, a plethora of fairly specific identifers I could have used to track her down, but they chose to keep this information from me. My adoptive mom is tearfully contrite about it now. After I forced the revelation from her. She blames my adoptive father.

“You know how controlling he was.”

And I do, but I also know his emotional abuse never stopped her from doing whatever the hell she wanted when it was important to her. Me knowing the truth about who I was and where I came from was not important to her.

Both of my adoptive parents worried I would leave them and our family if I found my biological family. They weren’t wrong to worry. I was not well-rooted in the family adoption helped them create. I was only barely interested in or attached to their biological families. The odds are, I would have left and not really returned all that much or at all.

It still doesn’t make what they did right. It wasn’t their information to withhold. It was mine.

Even this far into my post-reunion journey, I am still so fucking angry. I don’t think I will ever not be just shy of the boiling point of rage. Every new bit of information I learn about what my natural mother went through, the punitive adoption practices, the mistreatment she endured from her parents, brother, and sister-in-law, the angrier I get. And I don’t know if I am even more angry for her than I am about what I had to go through at this point.

People would like me to be grateful. As if my adoptive parents saved me from something unspeakable and replaced it with something superior. The trouble with this narrative is that it just isn’t true.

When income is factored out, being raised by my natural mother would have been emotionally better for me. There’s no way to argue otherwise. My adoptive parents had a terrible marriage. They were unsuited for each other by any measure you’d care to apply. Highly dysfunctional and that’s before adding my adoptive father’s alcoholism to the mix. The household was chaotic and unsafe. Being well-dressed, fed, and with a roof over our heads on a regular basis should be viewed as the barest of minimums and in no way adequate for children, who are dealing with the emotional trauma of being separated from their natural mothers while simultaneously being expected to heal the infertility trauma of their adoptive parents.

In addition to my adoptive parents hiding information from me to spare themselves, they both used me as I was growing up as a fix for their emotional wounds, and frankly, punished me with their disappointment and disapproval when I failed at that task.

I don’t actually believe in forgiveness. I don’t believe at all in forgetting. That I can carry on in a relationship with my adoptive mother doesn’t mean everything is okay because it isn’t and never will be. There’s nothing she can do about it. That shipped sailed and she waved it off from the docks without a second thought. Living with that is her problem, not mine.

They say you can’t hold a grudge forever, but that’s not true. And that holding grudges is bad for you. I disagree with that as well. I see grudges as deeply defended boundaries, and boundaries are good things.

My goal, however, is not retribution as much as it is finding an acceptable form of closure for myself. One where I know everything that is knowable, gathered into a narrative, shared, and then put away on a shelf to review again if I feel like it. A history of the creation of me. The same as what kept people have and take for granted.

My adoption is about everyone but me. Or so it seems most days. I can hardly tweet, write about, or discuss it without someone having an opinion that centres them in the narrative. This doesn’t surprise me. In the context of adoption, babies are the merchandise. It’s society, the legal system, and the adults involved in the transaction who have a voice. Some have more agency than others, but ultimately, the baby is neglected.

And adoptees are babies in perpetuity. The legal system has seen to that. Our files, original birth certificates, the identities of our parents and their extended families, our heritage, and really the foundation of our identities are walled off from us. Largely because there is no room in the adoption scenario for an adoptee, who will one day be an adult. Even now, as I steadily approach my sixth decade, I am viewed as “the baby” when it comes to my adoption. My opinions, and even my lived experience, is dismissed because I am forever a baby in the eyes of the adoption industry and its proponents.

My adoptive parents, and though generally I refer to all my parents as “parents” without distinguishing them, so I will add the descriptors of “adoptive” and “natural” for the purpose of clarity, were not the worst parents. When I think about the era in which I grew up, the 1960s and 70s, and recall the parents in my extended family, those of neighbour kids and school friends, my adoptive parents were more or less typical. They were Silent Generation, who reached their near adulthood under the shadow of WWII. Adopted Dad joined the Navy as soon as he graduated from high school and caught the tail end of the war like many of his peers. Adopted Mom grew up, as he did, on a farm and in a big family. They had expectations that were typical of the time. Marriage. Suburbs. Kids. Hanging out with family and friends on the weekends. Basically your American Dream life stuff. They were not expecting infertility to upend what everyone took for granted.

To say that neither of my adoptive parents dealt with the trauma and grief of infertility would be vastly understating things. For my adoptive mom, adopting me and later my three siblings, allowed her to paper over the pain. She wasn’t really cut out for mothering a hoard of small people. At one point there were three of us under the age of four. It was overwhelming, lonely, and she really had enjoyed working outside the home, which the adoption agency forbid if they wanted to be eligible to adopt. Stay at home moms only was one of the Catholic Charities criteria of the time. I have always thought that had they just adopted me, she might have been okay, but adoption did nothing for my adoptive dad.

My adoptive dad’s upbringing was literally dirt poor. They were the poor relations. Tenant farmers as a result of a bank failure in the early 1920’s, and my adoptive Grandad’s being saddled with a very elderly father and having to support his three younger sisters. There was never much money, and the family eventually ended up living with my adoptive Grandmother’s father and farming his land. Dad came back from the Navy to a household in turmoil and immediately was handed the financial responsibilities in a way that his own father must of recognized from his own life. Consequently, he didn’t seriously date until he met Mom about eight years later. He just didn’t have the time or the resources to think about a life of his own.

It had to have been a huge disappointment, and then a life-altering shock, when they couldn’t get pregnant and then couldn’t stay pregnant when it manage to happen that one “magical” time my adoptive mom still talks about. All around them, family and friends were adding babies to the landscape, and they just couldn’t.

I have been through infertility myself, and let me just that as an adoptee, it’s quite the mind-fuck, so I have more than just passing sympathy for what my adoptive parents must have gone through. But in no way was I the preferred solution. And I know this because it took them seven long years of disappointment before my adoption finally made them parents. Had they struck baby at any point during that time, I would be somewhere else right now. As much as I was “chosen” I was never the one they wanted.

My adoptive father always blamed Mom for denying him biological children. As I told my natural father in my first email to him, my adoptive dad really never understood any of his children. It puzzled, disappointed, and even hurt him, that despite all his efforts to mould us to be more like him, we were all stubbornly the children of someone else.

The fact that we didn’t look like he or Mom ate at him. Not knowing what my natural parents looked like, he was convinced I was too fat from an early age and not near feminine enough. Consequently, there were many snide comments and allowing everyone from my pediatrician to our crackpot next door neighbour to put me on diets well before I even hit junior high. I was not smart enough because I had a learning disability that made math extremely difficult for me while it was like breathing to him. I was a effortlessly natural athlete, but I had no competitive drive, which made him insane. Unlike my younger adoptive brother, who rebelled wildly against them almost from birth, I was more subtle, and I won far more of my battles with my adoptive father than he would’ve ever admitted, and this angered him too.

This is not to say he didn’t love me. He did. It was one of those “in his own ways” sort of thing, but he did. He lived in terror of our natural parents coming back for us. In the summer, Mom would leave our bedroom windows cracked to let in air and he would sneak in during the night, close and lock them. Mom would find us in the morning, dripping with sweat, and was outraged he’d do this to us, but Dad persisted because he was sure if the windows weren’t locked, we would be stolen.

He had his moments when he really stepped up for us. Though many of them were reactions to outside forces. And at the end of his life, I think, he’d found some measure of peace with the fact that he’d raised other people’s children. It was likely his grandchildren that brought him to that place because he loved them to pieces in a way that was far more genuine and open than he’d ever been with us.

I haven’t forgiven him like I have my adoptive mother. He was the one who didn’t want to tell us we were adopted. That was one of her rare defiance, which was probably the best parenting move she ever made. He was the one who destroyed all of our identifying information because “they don’t need to know”. This included original birth certificates, adoption files and decrees, and any medical or family information that might have been available. Frankly, he deserves no forgiveness for this. The man had a memory like an elephant. He knew and deliberately kept everything from us. In fact, they both knew the name of my natural mother from the day they got me, and they both lied to my face about until I confronted my adoptive mom after doing an DNA test, and she finally confessed. Six years after my natural mom had died. And yes, I am still way salty.

It’s hard for me to say I don’t have an attachment to my adoptive parents because of course, I do. And I do love them. Though what choice does an adopted child really have in that regard? It’s not like we had any say or any opportunity to choose our own destiny. But I feel the loss of my natural parents keenly and probably more so now that I know who they are and what I lost when cultural norms robbed me of them.

My adoptive parents did not see themselves as saviours. Though I know many adoptive parents do because it helps them justify helping themselves to someone else’s child. Mom and Dad just wanted children like everyone else they knew. It was really always that simple for them in a situation that was always to complex for them to have even navigated on their own.

But at the end of the day, do I wish my natural mother had been given the assistance she needed to keep me? Yes, I do. I will never be okay with the fact she was forced to give me to strangers.