I Always Knew I Was Adopted
There was never a time when I didn’t know that I was adopted. My older brother was also adopted through an open adoption, so I remember assuming that this was the norm. Like most very young kids, I didn’t fully understand what that meant, but I do remember I was about 4 when I grasped that other children came from their mom’s tummies and that my brother and I did not.
For most of my early childhood, being adopted meant that when either of our birth parents came to visit, I had to help clean the house even beyond its normal spotlessness. More importantly, birth family often brought my brother and I presents. Big plus for a kid.
Even though our parents told us who they were, we mostly just understood these visitors were special and I did feel a back-of-the-brain kind of connection to them, but beyond that, it felt like close family friends coming to visit.
Yes, Sometimes Being Adopted Was Frustrating
As I got older, I had some of the common adoptee thoughts and experiences. I didn’t look that much like my family, but in the sociable milling around that followed church, people would “compliment” my parents on how much their children looked like them. It bothered me that this was something that people seemed to value.
We were inevitably assigned the dreaded “Family Tree” school projects or assignments where we talked about where we were from or who we got our hair and eye color from. When it came up in school that I was adopted, there were ignorant questions and teasing. “Why didn’t your real parents want you?” “What was it like in the orphanage?” “They must have hated you.”
It didn’t faze me much. I parroted what my parents had always told me: “My parents are my real parents. I have birth parents and they placed me for adoption because they wanted me but couldn’t keep me.”
I experienced fleeting feelings of rejection, insecurity and abandonment, despite being absolute in the knowledge of my family and my birth family’s love for me. Sometimes the things that you know and the things that you feel are different things. These feelings crop up for a lot people during adolescence — adoptees are no exception. Other types of adoptees, like transracial adoptees, international adoptees and adoptees who experienced closed adoptions have different emotions — typically far more complex, to process.
My Relationship with My Birth Parents
When I was a baby, my birth parents and birth grandparents visited often. As I grew up (and they grew up) they visited less — my family moved around frequently, and my birth parents were busy building their own lives.
My Birth Mother
I remember my birth mother making a trip that took several hours with her fiancé to visit us when I was about 7. Her fiancé gave my brother and I stacks and stacks of Pokémon cards, so naturally he received our solemn approval. It was only as an adult that I realized how important that trip must’ve been for my birth mother and her soon-to-be-husband — introducing him to the child she placed for adoption several years earlier. The next time I saw her was when she was my sponsor at my Catholic Confirmation when I was 17.
When she came for my Confirmation, her husband and their two young boys stayed at our house for the event. Meeting my half-siblings was surreal. Sleeping under the same roof as someone I was biologically related to for the first time was even weirder. Her youngest son casually held my hand, like siblings do, and I think I stopped breathing. It’s one of those things that only other adoptees can understand.
I haven’t seen her since — she’s had her hands full! She’s had two little girls and teaches pre-school. I always love seeing photos and updates of her kids on Facebook.
My Birth Father
My birth father and his wife visited more often as I grew older, and as an adult, I’ve grown much closer to them — we live relatively near to each other and he also doesn’t have any additional children of his own to tangle up his schedule.
It surprises people to learn that we hang out. I cat-sit for him, I help his family with their annual Halloween haunted house, we regularly email and have grabbed lunch a few times.
Most of my adoptee friends don’t know their birth fathers. Mine has always been involved and supportive — of my birth mother, my family and certainly me.
My Birth Grandparents
As they get older, I don’t see my birth grandparents on either side much. But they’re the best. In true grandparent form, they Like just about everything I put on Facebook and never forget to send a Christmas or birthday card. When they could, they’d even attend my plays or dance recitals when I was growing up.
My parents still send our birth families letters, gifts and photos every year, which I know they appreciate receiving as much as we love getting their annual letters to us.
Final Thoughts on My Birth Parent-Adoptee Relationship
Birth parent-adoptee relationships don’t feel like a parent-child relationship. That was never a point of confusion for me, like some hopeful adoptive parents (mistakenly) fear about open adoptions.
Birth parent-adoptee relationships are kind of their own thing.
I’m closer to my birth family than a lot of adoptees are, and it makes for an interesting self-study in nature and nurture. It’s a pretty even combo.
There are so many little things that people who aren’t adopted take for granted, that, to an adoptee, are astonishing: My birth father and I hold a pen the same weird way. My birth mother is passionate about the same things I am. Even just looking like someone else is strange to most adoptees.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to my birth parents. I received more than just my name and my genes from them. They gave me my family.
I like them as people and I love them as birth parents. My heart aches for the fear and pain they must’ve gone through when they became pregnant at a young age and the difficult decision they made for me.
I’m sure that decision still weighs on them. But I’ll say what I’m pretty sure they already know: They did good.
I haven’t mentioned them much yet. I was saving up for the gush of love you’re about to be subjected to. My family is the best.
My parents are great. They never set out with any intention of being a role model for adoptive parents, but they absolutely are. If you’re thinking about adoption, look to my parents for how to do it right — with an open adoption.
Several years ago, my cousins went through the same infertility heartbreak that my parents once did. My parents stepped in to offer their support and assured them open adoption was the best way for their future child to have both halves of himself. This led to my cousins adopting their now-5-year-old son from (of all places) American Adoptions, which only completes open adoptions. My parents are godparents.
I have an amazing family who provided me with opportunities and experiences that my young birth family couldn’t have at that point in their lives. My parents worked so hard for the privilege to become a family, and never took that for granted. I’ve wondered if that’s why their love is so fierce. Or maybe that’s just parents, right?
Working with American Adoptions
For the majority of my life, my adoption was something that I kept pretty tightly to myself. But as I got older, I realized the need for better education about adoption.
I watched couples sticking themselves with needles, taking pills and taking their temperature in an effort to have a baby. I watched young friends get pregnant and struggle between parenting or abortion.
People were so resistant every time I mentioned that I was adopted. Yes, everyone’s situation is different. Adoption definitely isn’t right for everyone. But a lot of people just don’t know enough about adoption to even consider it as an option, and that seems so tragically limiting.
I wanted to use my experience as a writer to be an advocate for pregnant women who weren’t able to parent their baby, hopeful couples who were ready to become parents, and fellow adoptees.
When I saw an open writing position at American Adoptions, the adoption agency that helped bring my baby cousin into my family (and it was located only a few hours away from my family) it felt so “meant to be” that I had to laugh. I packed up and moved from Chicago to Kansas City a few weeks later.
It’s strange to have adoption go from this half-forgotten backseat role in my life to the forefront of my days. But this is the best job I’ve ever had. Everyone here at American Adoptions is so caring and passionate about helping pregnant women and adoptive parents become families together.
It’s as an adoptee and not as an employee that I say what a fantastic adoption agency American Adoptions is.
The Truth About Open Adoption
Since starting at American Adoptions, I’m surprised at the number of potential adoptive parents who balk at the idea of an open adoption. I understand where their fears are coming from. But I can be the grown-up voice of the baby they hope to adopt: Don’t be afraid of an open adoption.
I’m a happy, well-adjusted adult (or at least as much as any of us are!) because I grew up with an open adoption.
My friends who had closed adoptions or who grew up with little to no contact with their birth parents harbor understandably negative feelings about their adoptions. I can’t imagine living with such a huge hole in my heart and my history. With a closed adoption, the questions can consume you.
I know that sometimes open adoptions are unfortunately not an option for the woman — international placements or Child Protective Services come to mind. But, whether you’re a pregnant woman considering adoption or a prospective adoptive parent — always choose an open adoption when you can.
I’m so lucky to have such a fantastic relationship with both my birth and adoptive families. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without both of those sides of me. Open adoption gave me that.
I hope you’ll give that to your child, too.