Growing up, I didn’t really know my story. I can’t remember if it was ever told to me. I do know I never really asked. I only knew that at some point I was in a foster home and that there was no name of my biological mother so that even if I would one day want to search, I had nothing to go by. Nowhere to even start.
Exactly one year ago yesterday, I had a conversation with a woman who I had connected with via Facebook, on a completely different topic. Our communication had nothing to do with adoption, but as always it did make its way into a conversation that I was adopted from Medellin, Colombia. At some point, I also mentioned to her that my name in Colombia had been Restrepo.
The screenshot you see below is her telling me that her very best friend from growing up was from Medellin, and her name was Restrepo. In the moment I didn’t have a huge reaction to that, but it would become a significant moment in my adoptee journey. A turning point, and one of those moments that mark a before and an after.
Before this, I had rejected the idea of searching for any biological family in Colombia. I had always wanted to go to Colombia, to get to know the country, culture, and people in general. Not to search. Search for what? Family I did not know? A stranger who gave birth to me? Those were my thoughts before that moment.
Hearing that someone I knew, knew a person from Medellin, the city I was from, with the same last name as mine, was like hitting a light switch. I suddenly realized that there are people out there, in the world, in Colombia, in Medellin, who are biologically connected to me. I realized there are people out there who I share the unbreakable bond of DNA with. And for the first time in my 33-year-old life, I felt curious about who they might be. That curiosity quickly grew into a desire to know who they were.
I asked my husband to order me a DNA-test, something that I had for years rejected, every time he brought it up, not understanding how I could live without wanting to know if I had biological family out there. I realize in hindsight that it was not that I did not want to know, but the fear of rejection, the fear of the unknown and the fear of finding information I might not want to hear, that had kept me from allowing myself to want to know. My entire life I had been very successful at hiding any and all emotions linked to my adoption, other than to say that I was adopted from Colombia, as a little child, and leave it at that.
I asked my mother to share with me any and all adoption documents they had for me, which she did. My adoptive parents are both very supportive of my searching, of my wanting to look for my roots and find out where I come from. Even so, it is a delicate area to venture into, emotionally. It is a minefield of guilt and rejection. This time feeling as if I am rejecting them, by asking for this information. Should I feel guilt? No. Should I feel like I am rejecting them? No. But that is part of the adoptee experience, the contradiction of emotions at any turn. And some of my fellow adoptees are made to feel guilty by their adoptive parents in a situation like this. Some of my fellow adoptees do not get access to their adoption papers so easily, as just to ask for them. My heart truly goes out to them. We already live with such an internal struggle, that when people around us add to it, it can easily be too much to handle. So, we tell ourselves we don’t need it. We push those feelings deep down and bury them there. We live with our questions burning inside, and we tell ourselves that it’s just the cards we were dealt. Or we stay true to ourselves and our feelings, and we risk being alone. That is how many adoptees feel in this.
When reading my adoption papers for the first time, about how I was found, handed over from one place to another, my picture put in the newspaper etc. it felt very unreal. I was trying to feel any connection to the words I was reading. I was looking at the baby girl in the picture for the newspaper article, trying to feel myself being her, but could not quite feel connected to the story I was reading. Yet, this was all about me. This had all happened to me. In the beginning of finding out my story, my focus went more to the woman who claimed to have found me. I was wondering who she was and if she was lying or not. Was she, in fact, a stranger who had found me, cared for me, tried to find my mother, and now handed me over to the police? Or was she someone who had known my biological mother, who was helping her get rid of me, by handing me over to the police for adoption? Was she my biological mother, who was not able to care for me, and now handed me over to the police, and would not state her name or who she was? I still did not question the story itself.
I didn’t know how to feel about the information I had found yet. I was not able to access those emotions yet. I didn’t feel sad or angry. I didn’t feel abandoned or rejected. I hadn’t opened the lid yet, to Pandora’s box of adoptee emotions. I was still working on finding the key to unlock it. And that key was hidden well, deep down in inside. I was scared to find it. I told my husband at one point, that I had not decided to start searching. I had not decided to dig into my adoption experience. I told him that this was new territory for me, and I had absolutely no idea what would come out if I did decide to go there. I understand how someone who has full access to their entire family, to their biological background, and to their own history, could be confused by, and not understand the rejection of wanting to find out. I think in my own case, I never felt like I had anyone who would be able to pick me up, carry me, and be there for me if I ever broke down. Digging into the adoption experience, I suspected, could cause me to break down. I felt that I was alone to handle my own emotions and internal struggles, so I buried it deep. I did not let it to the surface, because I didn’t know that I could control it if I ever did let any of it out. I always had a very hard time crying in front of anyone, being vulnerable or opening up about things that bothered me or made me sad. I did not talk about these feelings with anyone. I was the only person I knew who was adopted, except my brother, and in my mind, our adoption experiences had been nothing alike, so we didn’t relate to one another. Therefore, I didn’t talk to him about any of my emotions or asked him about his.
I was what’s called a compliant adoptee, deep in the fog*.
Compliant because the fear of rejection that came from having been abandoned as a baby made me feel unloved, unwanted and rejected to the core if someone would be angry with me over something that I had done. However, apologizing meant admitting to being wrong, being wrong meant there was something unlovable with me, and if I was unlovable, I could easily be abandoned again. So, I kept myself and my emotions in check. Of course I had people around me who loved me and wouldn’t abandon me, but these were my emotions, these were the signals my brain had received at one point early on in my life, and anything after would be shaped by that. And logic does not apply in the world of adoptee emotions. I was in the fog because I was not able to see that there must have been effects of my being separated from my mother, which would have caused my feelings of abandonment, which would have naturally lead to a fear of rejection, but instead told myself that I was fine. That adoption had saved me and that I was unaffected by it.
It would take joining a Facebook group for people adopted from Colombia, numerous hours of reading about the industry that is adoption, re-reading my own adoption documents countless times, and watching an episode of a show on Netflix dealing with the dark side of adoption, to throw me into the process of coming out of the fog, and opening the lid to Pandora’s box. I will share that with you in my next post…
I thank you from the bottom of my heart, for spending this time with me, reading my story.
If you would like to share your story, I would love to connect with you and help you share it here alongside mine.
Own your story, share your story, write your story.
All my love to all of you.
– Amanda Medina
PS. We are all in this together!
* Coming out of the fog is the process by which adoptees who have considered themselves unaffected by adoption, start looking to their past, their background, their origin and as a result start shifting their view on adoption, their own and in general, as well as the effects it may have had on their life.