There’s a loneliness that comes with being adopted that no one seems to ever acknowledge or talk about. It seemed to define me, and my persona as an adopted child. For me, I grew up the adopted child, as well as the youngest of six, and they were all related, including two sets of twins. My adoption wasn’t like everyone else’s in the sense that I wasn’t adopted at birth, nor was I even legally adopted, and I also had contact with my (not so great) father, so no matter what, I never felt like I fit, or belonged. Instead, I felt as if I was an outsider in every place I ever went, including the home I grew up in. It’s no one’s fault, but I felt like an alien. I was never formally adopted, and where I grew up, there was a stigma surrounding it, that your parents didn’t want you, or something was wrong with you, so I never felt as if I could talk about it with anyone. Obviously, this is 2016, and we all know that birth parents always have reasons for giving their children up for adoption that usually have nothing to do with not wanting them.
I compensated for this by being incredibly withdrawn and introverted. I was shy and anxious, and most situations immobilized me from fear or judgment or just plain anxiety. My birth name wasn’t legally changed to reflect my adoptive family’s last name until I was 14, and I can still remember one of my teachers in the 6th grade butting heads with me about the name I was being called, and the name I would respond to. She insisted on referring to me by the name on the roster, which I have never in my life responded to. Even though I was non-confrontational and an introvert, the attitude in me wouldn’t let her push me around, so I only responded when called by the name I knew, which she never did. Despite my introversion and my shyness, I also had a stubborn streak that was unbreakable, and it caused a bit of a ruckus. None of it ever seemed to dull that ache of loneliness I felt inside, however.
Even now, I still feel a tinge of loneliness and a lack of belonging that most people who grow up with their birth parents can never understand. It was the constant knowledge of, “These aren’t my people”, or, “They’re not my REAL sisters and brothers” that was always in the back of my head, nagging at me and dragging me down. Nothing ever felt right, so I just got used to the feeling of wrong always being right. I guess it gave me a messy outlook of wrong and right. It constantly felt like there was a barrier up between myself and my family. I felt like an outsider constantly. I still do.
I often wonder if my mother, who was also adopted, ever felt this way. Maybe it could have been something we could have related on together. The one thing that I took from the experience of finding my mother as she was dying (which, for the record, is an AWFUL way to meet a birth relative, even if I’m glad that I did get to meet her), was it was the first time that I ever had that moment. That wave of recognition in her eyes, the one where we were both thinking, “This is her. I KNOW it. I know HER.” That moment broke through a whole lot of medicine, narcotics, and pain, and pierced straight through to both of us. It brought her out of a morphine and pain stupor, and it snapped me out of the fog in my head that that entire day had left me in. I don’t know if any other adoptee or birth parent has ever had that feeling, but I will tell you, it gave me a peace I had never known. That was where it started, the knowing of that feeling, and the knowledge that I had never felt it before, because now I was.
Finding my birth sister was the first time I ever felt like that barrier wasn’t there. I was so used to it that I didn’t know how it felt to not have it. When I felt it, that clicking in of “Oh, wow, this is my SISTER,” the feeling was so indescribable. We spent four hours on the phone and a lot of it consisted of, “Oh, my God, this is so weird” and a lot of giggling. We are so alike in some ways that it’s been the biggest comfort to me when things with my adopted family were incredibly weird.
Meeting my mother’s birth siblings was more of that feeling. Last year, my Uncle Danny invited my sister, Kim, my husband, Marshall, and I to his house for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, second only to Halloween, and it’s always been important to me that I spend it with people that I feel are family, even if they’re not really family. Of course I wanted to spend the holiday with my newfound family! I hadn’t met my cousin, Nicole, nor had I met my other uncle, Darin, although I’m 98% sure he and I had shared an elevator at some point, since we both used to work at the same pier when I lived in New York City. It’s possible the wave of recognition I had when I saw him for the first time was that he was, in fact, my uncle, but it was a feeling I had actually seen him somewhere else before. Either way, it felt as if I already knew the entire family.
I had had some anxiety that the feelings I had felt when I met my family in DC (where I first met my sister and Uncle Danny) wouldn’t still be there, that it would feel different, or that they wouldn’t like me as much, but none of that happened. I had anxiety about meeting my second uncle, Darin, and my cousin, Nicole, but there wasn’t even any awkwardness, or even a moment of weirdness. It was that same feeling of a clicking in of… “These are DEFINITELY my people”.
The best moment of the week was when I was constantly being mistaken for my cousin, Angelica. My aunt Liz, Angelica’s mother, came out to the front stoop to tap my shoulder, and when I turned around, was shocked to discover I wasn’t her daughter. We even took photos together and with my husband to try and confuse our friends on social media, and were shocked that it actually worked.
I can’t change not growing up with my birth parents, and from what I’ve seen, perhaps it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It doesn’t change what I’ve dealt with emotionally or who I am as a person as a result. I think it’s all a part of what makes me who I am. Adoption is not ideal for the adoptee, but it doesn’t have to rule the adoptee’s life.
The below photo and quote aren’t mine, but it’s one that I found somewhere, and it resonated so deep within me that I’ve cried about it a few times. Ever since finding my birth family, it just makes so much sense.