Recap from last post: Connecting with genetic relatives through the results of the DNA-test I took, understanding that I had the right to claim Colombia as my home-country even though I had no memories of it, and meeting fellow Colombian adoptees in person (two of them cousins I found through the DNA-test), is what kept me afloat, and let me see that there was a light of the end of the tunnel… Next, I will share with you what meeting biological family for the first time meant to me, what being able to call someone my cousin was like, and how I moved forward in the grieving process from anger and sadness, towards acceptance…
Imagine that you grow up with no one looking remotely like you. Looking in the mirror is the only way you will ever see anyone resembling you. The first encounter I really had with genes being passed on and children taking after their parents and siblings being alike was when I got to know and started becoming part of my husband’s family. Seeing certain traits having clearly been passed down through generations, and from parent to child fascinated me in a way I could not explain. I had never experienced that up close like that. At that time it didn’t even occur to me that maybe one day I might be able to look at someone and see a reflection of myself. It was a foreign concept.
I have heard from other adoptees that they would stand in front of the mirror, studying their own face, knowing they are looking at themselves, and still wondering who the person in the mirror is. I have done it too. I look nothing like my adoptive parents. My adoptive brother and I have very different features. Growing up I was the only person having my nose, having my eyes, having my hair and any other physical attribute of mine, I was the only one with my personality. Looking in the mirror was the only way I had to get a sense of myself. And it is a weird feeling to look at yourself, and not quite know who you are looking at.
The first time I would ever feel any kind of mirroring from a person other than my reflexion in the mirror was when I met two fellow adoptees Luis Gomez, and Rita Esmeralda Naranjo in Escondido, CA. Not because they looked like me but because what they talked about were feelings I knew, could relate to and had always felt. Feeling and thoughts I had never heard anyone else talk about in a way that mirrored what I felt and thought.The fear of rejection that made you compliant. The guilt that came with all the conflicting feelings of questioning one’s adoption and place in the world, while also recognizing the potential benefits of the life you have had a result of the adoption. The difficulty to be vulnerable and trust enough to let your guard down, and let people see the real you because most of the time you don’t even know who the real you is. Lacking information about your own life that most people take for granted. I felt an instant connection to the two of them. It was the first time I spoke with Colombians who were able to relate to my hesitation in calling myself Colombian. Their pride in their Colombian heritage, and them talking about Colombia as home and as ours inspired me to want to feel proud of being Colombian. It inspired me to want to share that part of my background with my daughters, because even though I knew little to nothing about it, it is also their background, and they deserve to know it.
The way Luis and Rita shared their stories with me as we were sitting at that table at a Panera cafe, was new to me. Theirs are stories of loss, of rejection and of a child longing to be loved. But the grace with which they both told their stories amazed me. As if after all they had been through, they were able to stand tall and reach out to connect with fellow adoptees, instead of letting their past break them, harden them or make them bitter and angry. It was truly inspiring, and I can only hope to get to share their stories here alongside mine one day. (hint, hint if you are reading this Luis and Rita)
A few months later my DNA-results arrived. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the earth-shattering, overwhelmingly emotional experience I had thought it would be. I think part of me was dreaming that in one shot I would receive a name of a relative and through that I would be able to start tracing and eventually finding my family. I was also bracing myself for the possibility of “no matches found”. I logged in and I had hundreds of matches. No immediate or close family. All distant. The closest ones were estimated at 2nd cousin. But there were a bunch of them. And I started reaching out to them. Some of them turned out to be fellow adoptees, and it was with a few of them that I developed very close connections. Growing up I had always wanted to have cousins. I had none. My one aunt never had children, and my mother was an only child, so at some point, it became apparent to me that cousins were just not going to happen for me. To finally be able to call someone my cousin was a dream come true. The first cousin of mine that I would meet face to face was Amy Bergman Hunter, and in a very short time of getting to know her, I started understanding what people were referring to when speaking of family, relatives and biological connection being important, unbreakable and profound.
I felt a connection to Amy that went beyond friendship, that went beyond the things we shared and I instantly felt closer to her than people I had known my whole life. She was family! She was MY family. For the first time in my entire life, I got to experience what it feels like to be genetically connected to someone (other than my daughters). It didn’t matter that I hadn’t known her for the first 33 years of my life. We were connected by the unbreakable bond of DNA, and that made her family. Over the next 6 months, we would make up for all the lost time by talking hours and hours on the phone, every single day. Going one day without hearing her voice was unthinkable. We talked about everything. We dug into our adoption experiences together, pulled our stories apart, shared aha-moments, laughed and made jokes about the weirdness of it all, read our adoption papers over and over, shared our inner feelings about everything in life, and it was the first time I felt that this person is connected to ME. I can be myself, say what I feel and think, and regardless if we agree or disagree with one another, nothing can break the bond between us. It was the first time my connection to a person was not depending on the way we related to one another. It was new and it was a beautiful feeling. Amy is another one with a story worth sharing. (hint, hint if you are reading this Amy.)
Being a transnational adoptee, meaning born in one country and adopted to another, I had always felt as though I belonged to both countries partially, and to neither fully. I had never felt that I fully belonged in Sweden, and I didn’t feel I had the right to claim Colombia either. I was forever stuck in between, with one foot in each place, and meeting fellow adoptees who embraced their Colombian heritage with pride I felt my weight switching over to the Colombian side more for the first time. I felt as though I was going through a process of starting to shed my Swedish identity in order to embrace my Colombian one. I can’t tell you why I didn’t feel there was room for both. And this, as with so many other features of our lives, came with that same familiar feeling of guilt. Shedding my Swedish identity meant distancing myself from everything I had always known, giving room for something I knew very little of. But it was part of the process of coming out of the fog, and it felt like something that had to happen. Together, Amy and I went through the stages of anger and sadness in our grieving process. We turned the adoption experience inside out in our conversations, and we picked it apart and put it back together.
I think what finally led me to reach the acceptance stage was when I also started connecting with adoptees across the board. I was adopted from Colombia, in the group I was part of on facebook there were 1500 fellow Colombina adoptees. That sounds like a lot for one group on facebook. At least it did to me. And that is only one of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of groups, filled with adoptees from different experiences. Transnational adoptees, domestic adoptees, children who grew up in the system and were eventually adopted, closed adoptions, open adoptions, and the list goes on and on. Little by little, as I heard all the stories of adoptees, the idea for this blog was born. It would take a few more turns until I was ready to launch it. After a year of my starting the journey of digging into my adoption, I was starting to shift my focus. Once I reached the acceptance stage of my grieving process, I realized that this is where the healing begins. My next post will be about the realization that the fog will just keep lifting, that I am forever a work in progress and that there is no finish line to cross because there will never be a day when I am no longer an adoptee…
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!