Once Upon A Time: I Was Adopted

As an adult, I have never doubted that my biological mother made the decision that she thought was best both for her and for me.

Dec 6, 2011 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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I guess I could start this out with something like “It Happened To Me: I Was An Adopted Kid!” but somehow that feels sensational. Not, like, sensational as in fabulous but sensational as in yellow journalism. Looking for a more extreme response than the statement warrants. You know.

Once upon a time, in 1977, I was born. I don’t know much of anything about the people directly involved. 

Family legend says this: There was a woman in the central or south Florida areas who met a man who may or may not have been French of some variety. In the south Florida area, speaking French does not necessarily mean "from France" (though if it meant "we come from France," that would explain a lot - kudos to those who get that reference).

In any event, he apparently didn't speak much English. This meeting may have taken place on New Year's Eve -- though my birthday, September 2nd (start your present planning now), makes that somewhat suspect.

This woman, my biological mother, got pregnant -- as sometimes happened after (maybe drunk) one-night stands in the late 70s. It still happens now, but, you know, I'm sticking to the narrative.

And when she found herself pregnant, the woman decided she was too old (there was always this distinction) to raise a child alone. That's how I came to be put up for adoption.This story kind of reeks of romanticizing, doesn't it?

I kind of love it, because as origin stories go, it's not a bad one. But I don't entirely trust it. Because, come on -- a mysterious (maybe I'm just inserting that part) French one-night stand on New Year's Eve? That's kind of too good to be true.

What I do know for a fact is that a local Orlando law firm handled my adoption. I've actually, many years ago, met the people involved -- apparently they considered keeping me. 

I was a very cute baby, y'all.

And I know that my parents, the people I have always considered my parents and named as such, were the youngest couple in the state of Florida who were approved to adopt a child. My mother was 20; my father was 21 -- though he turned 22 shortly thereafter, according to the math.

"My dad was in the Navy. I know there used to be photos -- in particular, there was a photo of me sitting with his Navy portrait while I listened to the casette tapes he would send. He recorded them while he was on an aircraft carrier, so I would remember him. But, like a lot of things, I have no idea where that photo is now. "

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What I know is that my parents wanted a child. And, despite all of our difficulties later, they loved me very much. That counts for a lot, you know? Even in the face of the rest of our history. 

When you are an adopted child, at least when you are me, you wind up with a poem printed on SOMETHING. In my case, it was a cross-stitch sampler. I hope it still exists somewhere; it says:

Never forget for a single minute,
You didn't grow under my heart -- but in it.


Seriously, can a couplet be any more saccharine? I don't think so. But even as a hyper-self-conscious middle school kid, I loved that damn sampler. Because it reaffirmed the thing that I think is most important for kids in general, but that is extra important for adopted kids: You are loved.

As an adult, I do not doubt that my biological mother, whatever the actual circumstances of her pregnancy, made a difficult decision. If you wonder about the difficulty of giving a baby up for adoption (and even our language surrounding this is so problematic -- it's all framed in terms of abandonment), read this account by an anonymous birth mother discussing both her experience with adoption and with abortion. As an adult, I have never doubted that my biological mother made the decision that she thought was best both for her and for me.

As an adult, I do not doubt that my parents, the two people who adopted me, love me in all the ways they can -- even when those ways are not quite the ways I might have wanted or needed. The thing is, no matter what else is an issue (and there are always issues between parents and children, I think), I never doubted that as a child either. And that is golden; that is probably the most precious thing ever.

(Approval is a different story. But love? Oh, yeah. I have always known I was loved.)

My parents were very careful never to present adoption as a negative thing to me. They were very careful never to say anything bad about my biological parents, either of them. They were, at all times, very careful to present it as a choice made out of love -- love on the part of every involved party.You can’t do much better than that, OK?

The other thing I got as an adopted child in the late 70s is a copy of a book that even then was hard to find: "The Chosen Baby." The Chosen Baby was written in 1939. That it is still the best book about adoption for children that I have been able to find says a whole lot -- because it certainly is not a perfect book.

It’s definitely a romanticized presentation of adoption. But given the audience -- kids who are too young to understand more complex and nuanced explanations -- it seems pretty appropriate. The baby is male, but the adoption counselor told my parents to just read it to me with pronouns swapped out. Even though I learned to read quite young, this pronoun switchery never bothered me. (Perhaps that’s why I’m so not invested rigidly assigning pronouns to people now?)

In fact, because my parents integrated "The Chosen Baby" into my life as early as possible, I have no memory of the first time I learned I was adopted. I have always known, the way I have always known my name. It was a thing, a thing just as valid as biological family.

This was supported by religious ritual. My mother’s family is LDS, commonly known as Mormon. Families are “sealed” together -- and adopted kids get to be part of that, too. My feelings about organized religion are kind of eh, at this point in my life. But I’m not going to lie. The specific context of the LDS faith gave my family an empowering feeling of legitimacy that I sometimes wonder if other similar families got to feel.

Maybe because being adopted has just always been another characteristic of my life (like being fat, like having curly hair, like laughing at inappropriate jokes), I’ve never felt a burning need to find my biological relatives. Given the extreme difficulty of getting records opened in Florida, this is probably a good thing. It would be easy to wind up tormented over this.

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My records were, I am told, supposed to be open. But all adoption records were sealed in Florida in the 80s. And it’s near impossible to get the court to open them back up. My birth certificate is mostly blank. It lists my parents -- my adoptive parents and the date. There is no information about anything else.

It’s so ridiculous, y’all, but I have always been a little bitter that I can’t have an astrological chart done; I don’t even know the ballpark for my time of birth.

There’s no big drama to my story. I’m a (I think) reasonably well-adjusted adult, for all of my issues. I don’t feel abandoned -- I feel respect and a certain distant love for the unknown woman who made a difficult choice. I follow adoption rights issues because I feel very personally invested, but it’s a quiet, intensely personal struggle. My parents got a lot of stuff right; that doesn’t change how very messed up the system is, how very messed up our cultural attitudes, perceptions and policies are.

I don’t know if I look like anyone (seeing family resemblances does sometimes feel like papercuts to me). I don’t know what diseases run in my family. I don’t know my family medical history at all (it makes filling out that particular paperwork for new doctors really quick). I don’t know how long the people in my biological family live. I don’t know my racial heritage (I am culturally white but there have always been doubts raised based on everything from my body shape to “Why isn’t your hair smooth like other white peoples'?”) or where my biological family came from (I always picked Norway when it was time for the write about your family’s country of origin assignments at school -- I like Vikings).

What I know, when I don’t know anything else, is this: I’m a grown-up adopted kid. And I still feel loved. Sometimes that counts for a lot; sometimes that counts for everything.