Welcome back to Blogville my friends, it is so nice to have you back for a visit! Today I am sipping on a chai tea because it has so many mystery ingredients, kind of like the biological mysteries of being an adoptee. Maybe it was my granddaughter’s recent birthday that inspired this blog, or more specifically her other grandmother commenting how much my now eight year old granddaughter looks like me. It was at that moment I realized how lucky my granddaughter is to know who she looks like. As an adoptee, I remembered that I had to wait 22 years to meet any biological family members that might look like me! That was just the beginning of my journey. Here’s how it went . . .
I grew up not knowing anyone I was biologically related to. I knew no one who looked like me. When I was 18 years old I met my true love. Two years later we married, and two years after that I met my first biological relative, our first child, a daughter. I’m not sure there was ever a baby more stared at in wonderment than she was. Maybe all adoptees feel this way when they meet their first child. I simply could not stop looking at her, seeking any resemblance to me. I was 22 years old before I met anyone that might look like me. She was later joined by three siblings, but by the time I was 32 years old I still only knew four biological relatives. Think about that for a minute.
Soon after the birth of our fourth child, I met my birth half sister, who had also been adopted. I was 32 years old and she was 35. I later met her two sons so I then knew three more biological relatives. A few years later I met my birth father’s adult children. I now had two more biological siblings, and two biological nieces. I was 39 years old. The next year I met my birth father. I was 40 years old.
I never had the opportunity to meet my birth mother but eventually I met her four other daughters, and their children; suddenly finding myself among so many biological relatives! I was 60 years old. Yes, you read that correctly, I was 60 years old before this privilege was granted to me. I was invited to a family reunion of my birth mother’s extended family where I met generations of people I am biologically related to, but who did not know my half-sister and I even existed. They were never given the chance to know us until my half-sister and I were in our 60s. Meeting them was filled with both happiness at gaining all of these family members, and a sense of loss at how much of each other’s lives we had missed.
Among these people were some who knew, and kept, the secrets of adoption. Among these people I felt both acceptance and curiosity. I caught many sidelong glances as they studied me, comparing my features to that of my birth mother’s. At the same time, I found a commonality and sense of belonging at this gathering through things like the shape and colour of my eyes, my height and fair skin (Dutch ancestry), and even my sense of humour. Among these people with whom I share genetic material, I learned so much as they shared their memories of my birth mother. She became more than simple descriptors on a page written by a social worker as I learned things about her as a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a sister-in-law, an aunt, and even as a cousin.
As you can see, I have come a long way from meeting my first biological relative when I was 22 years old to today when my life is enriched by connections within my immediate family. I am now connected with both my extended family members through adoption, and my extended family members through birth. Though I have found a sense of connectedness with my birth family members through physical resemblance, I feel that I have an even stronger connection with my adoptive family members through life’s experiences. In my adoptive family, my cousins, aunts and uncles all form parts of my lifetime memories as a result of our having shared so many lived experiences. Our memories of mutual visits to our grandmothers’ homes when we were children are gathered in our hearts. They knew/know me as their daughter, their granddaughter, their cousin, their niece, they knew/know me as me! My birth family will never know me like that.
I believe that human relationships are built on shared experiences. There are good and bad relationships among family members no matter how that family was created; through birth, marriage, kinship, adoption, surrogacy, and so on. We can choose to focus on or blame any poor relationships on how we became members of our families, or we can accept that we have a relationship with each other, no matter how we arrived at it, and work together at creating good experiences.
With changes to openness in adoption practices it is the hope that my adoption life experiences will prevented and that adoptees will be spared having to wait 22 years before meeting someone biologically related to them. Adoptive parents are certainly provided with more information than my parents were ever given, in the hopes that they can answer their children’s questions about their birth family. Pictures are even provided in many cases so a child can see for themselves where their features came from. When adoptive parents are provided with the tools they need to help answer their children’s questions about biological identity, those children are better able to form trusting relationships with their adoptive parents.
Pictures truly are worth a thousand words.
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See you next time!