Renee, born in the United States, adopted in the United States.
INTRO: Fellow adoptee Renee shares her story with us, in her own words. I think many adoptees can relate to her willingness to let her mom walk down a “happy memory lane” of a past that she herself might not look at with the same nostalgia…
“Every Sunday I call my Mother to check-in and every Sunday she closes the conversation with the same speech. My 76-year-old mother has short term memory loss due to a variety of health complications. Completely unaware that she is doing so, she repeats the same story every single week. Every week I hold my breath waiting for it, clenching my insides. After I hang up, I ask myself “How did her joyous retelling of my ‘gotcha day’ make me feel?”
As we close up our conversation, she gets all nostalgic. Her voice softens. “You know, as I get old, I find myself thinking back a lot. I find it so weird that when I got you, I held you at 4 days old, but I couldn’t touch the one I gave birth to for 13 days. I will never forget getting you at the airport. All the people on the plane ended up knowing what was going on because they wondered why do these old people (my Great Aunts and Uncle) have a newborn infant and so they asked. So when they put you in my arms at the terminal everyone was cheering and I was crying. It was the happiest day of my life.” I manage a “That’s sweet mamma.”
“Gotcha Day” is a trigger. Some weeks I just feel sorry for her because she doesn’t remember telling me this same story every single week. I don’t want to embarrass her. I don’t want to crush her joy. She’s lived through more than most and I can give her that one thing. If reminiscing is passing her days, I’m happy that her good memories are winning.
Some weeks I literally visualize and feel little baby me traveling with strangers who smell different and feel different. I visualize the commotion of it all, driving, airport, flying, airport, driving, new crib, and a new mother. I can feel my newborn heart racing for my first Mother whom I was just separated, missing her heart beat, her voice, her touch. Some weeks it’s just hard to hear ‘when I got you’. I don’t often want to be reminded that I was relinquished by my first family. I definitely do not want to be reminded I was sold and bought.
Other weeks I feel anguish for my original mother. The decision must have weighed heavy, giving up a baby conceived unwed but in love. I reflect that I must have been heavily on her mind and in her heart, a shameful secret that she could not share. I feel sorrow and empathy for her circumstance of limited resources and support. My birth father was just then sent to Vietnam leaving her pregnant and alone.
I immediately felt different when at age 5 my parents told me that I was adopted. It washed over me in adrenaline, an immediate and permanent schism. I didn’t look like anyone in my adoptive family. Their eyes as blue as the sky, mine as dark as the earth. I always wanted to know who I was. I just wanted to know who I looked like. I was drawn to my biological family and I felt them inside of me. I knew they were praying for me, I reasoned I couldn’t have survived my childhood without the extra prayers. I knew in my heart that my first family were good people and that my relinquishment was a stain of the times, NOT that I was a stain on the family.
No family is perfect and my adoptive family was no exception. My father was violent and beat my brother. He threw whiskey bottles onto the hearth, couch through the window, and rocks at the dog. There was constant yelling and destruction, my brother always getting into trouble for something deviant and my father’s fury always directed at straightening my brother out. My mother always worked on trying to talk my father down pleading for my brother. But this would then escalate my father further, furious that she would not support him in his style of discipline. I literally wondered time and time again “I wish I could be with my birth family; poverty cannot be worse than this” “Is this life and family really better than the one I was taken from?” My mother answered this question one tumultuous night. We had locked ourselves in my bedroom as my father was ranting and raging. My mother looking down at the floor with tears said “I apologize for bringing you into this family, for subjecting you to this.” What a painful thing for her to say and for me to hear. I left NJ for Wyoming a year after my father died not very much longer after.
I’ve carried a burden as an adoptee; there is seldom a day my relationships or my actions or reactions are not affected by it. It is burden that is not easily shared because of the dichotomy, a twoness lived:
- To society I’ve been programmed to be the grateful adoptee saved from a worse fate. I’ve been told I am double loved because one woman selflessly gave me away for the better, and another woman so selflessly took me as a child that was not born to her. It is said that I was so clearly ‘wanted’, no mistake. I am so lucky. I am the personification of circumventing hardship for one family and fulfilling an emptiness for another, so special. I am a gift. This is my place in life. I should just accept it without question. Everyone has sacrificed for me. With all this love, there is no way for me to feel displaced.
- Within myself my heart has ached to have my own gene pool in sight, and not just the face in the mirror. I have felt lonely walking the earth without my blood relations. I have searched for love and acceptance everywhere, probably to the chagrin of past lovers. I feel out of place most of the time. I have wondered many times if staying with my birth family could have been a better life. When I do attempt to share my own lived experience and feelings as an adoptee, I am met with push back. I’ve been told many times that I could have been aborted. That’s just rude. I was born pre-Roe v Wade, so that is also suggesting an illegal abortion. The pro-adoption narrative is so strongly integrated that I cannot even say my peace without objection. I’m the one sold at birth and separated from my birth family. So, I just stay quiet. It’s too off script for most people to hear.
What was within my heart, is the earthly reality of my birth family. They are kind, loving, good, funny, fun, accepting people. I am a spitting image of my birth mother; you could trace our profiles, fold them together, and they would match exactly. My niece was my mini-me in image for a time. Me and my brother’s 8th grade picture are nearly identical. My birth mother and the few that knew of me are said to have prayed for me every day. My kin threw me a Welcome Home party. When my Uncles started playing that old music, that music I’ve been sweet on since my teens and played in my own band, I just got up and danced first thing twirling around to the fiddle music. The jaws dropped and the smiles ensued. “Well if she ain’t one of us.” And when they played “Circle Unbroken” and the lady cousins and my mother and my sister got up to sing, I finally cried that happy cry. I am home.”