What If It Had Been Open (Part 3)
Today’s blog is accompanied by a tea called Sister Sister which I thought would be appropriate as I am going to be talking about when I actually met my maternal birth (half) sister who was also raised in an adoptive family. I’ve chatted with you about meeting her in Part 2 of this little blog mini-series and how adoption openness might have changed our lives.
As you all know, I was raised with a brother who, for all intents and purposes, is my only sibling in the ‘growing up together with siblings’ world. So many times in my childhood I had fantasized about having a sister instead of a brother, or even in addition to. Unless I needed protecting or once he started bringing over his good looking friends that is. Then having a brother was ok. I guess I just wanted someone to giggle with and do sister stuff with even though many of my friends who had sisters pretty much hated them.
Also at play, I think, was the fact that I grew up believing that I already had a biological half-brother being raised by our birth maternal grandparents somewhere out there. Due to a lack of openness in my adoption my parents misunderstood the verbal information provided by the worker, and I was in my 20s before I understood that my birth mother and her mother had a baby in the same year. Her mother gave birth to a boy and my birth mother gave birth to a girl a few short months later. I’m sure you can imagine how this misinformation impacted on me growing up. I’m also sure you can recognize how openness in my adoption may have mitigated that impact.
It is true that I felt somehow better when I found out that the child our birth mother had placed for adoption before me was also a girl, and was also placed on adoption. Though that did not immediately change my skewed thinking that boys were somehow more valuable, more ‘worth keeping’ than girls, it helped in some strange way. It also took some time to absorb that the first child born to my birth mother was not any more ‘worth keeping’ than I was. I struggle when I think of how simple openness might have made a difference in my feelings of self worth.
It was another eight or ten years before things started to open up in post-adoption services and I dared to think I might be able to actually meet my birth sister. A birth sister with whom I could or should have been raised, but that a lack of openness in adoption prevented. Here we were, two grown women, still being blocked from each other due to society’s fear of openness among people who had been adopted. I cannot begin to describe how disloyal to my parents I felt when I submitted that application, but that is a story for another blog.
I’ll admit I was feeling overwhelmed at the idea of contact with my birth sister, admittedly dragging my feet at times. I experienced all the loyalty to my parents stuff and basically, my fear of the unknown. But I pursued based partly on the fact I had always wanted a sister, and feeling safe due to the knowledge that she lived a couple of provinces away. Meanwhile, as she told me later, my birth sister was relentless in wanting to speed up the process at her end. As the rules were in those days, we first exchanged letters and basic information through an adoption disclosure worker. We both had to sign a consent, protecting our government’s butt from some sort of lawsuit I suppose.
I was pregnant with my fourth child at this time, and driven by a search for medical history information as well as seeking to get to know my birth sister. I had tried to get information when my first child was born but timidly accepted the door that slammed in my face at that time, a door that would not have been there if there had been some form of openness in my adoption. It is amazing how being adopted and raised with a ‘mystery history’ that everyone around you was counselled to withhold, can make one feel like they are doing something wrong in seeking information. If I lost the right to be raised by my birth family, ‘how can I have the right to find out about them?’ swam around continually in my mind. That is, until I became a parent. Once my status as an adopted person interfered with my children’s right to medical history information I was suddenly on a mission. But at the same time, I felt like a new recruit approaching their first time on the battlefield.
I was extremely nervous as I attended my appointment to sign the consent that would begin the process to connect my birth sister and I. I signed the document with trepidation and suddenly, without warning, the worker put several photographs on the table. They were the first photographs of my sister and her family that I had ever seen. I feel like their should have been some warning, or fanfare, or well, something to introduce this momentous occasion. Then I saw that we had the same eyes.
Meanwhile, my birth sister, who also had no idea that I existed, was very motivated to meet me. That gave me the courage to move forward. Due to distance and the fact that I was expecting our fourth child, our meeting was delayed for about 6 months. During that time we exchanged letters and talked on the phone, getting to know each other, and hearing about each other’s lives with our families who adopted us.
Finally the time came for us to meet. She flew to Ontario and I was to pick her up at the airport. We have a tiny municipal airport but the planes still manage to land here. So, as a nursing mom, I made the executive decision to nurse the baby before going to the airport so that she and I could go out for some quiet time before meeting my husband and four children. I think I also wanted to assess if she might be weird or dangerous before bringing her home lol. It turns out I was late. She would want me to include how, here she was in a tiny municipal airport in the middle of nowhere (where they tend to put small airports) and no one to greet her. Oh, and may I note that these were the days before everyone and their dog had a cell phone. Provinces away from home with a bored janitor asking her to put her suitcase onto the chair beside her and pick up her feet so he could mop underneath her, who knows what she was thinking! Well, I actually know but I’m not able to share it here. All I can do is recommend that you not leave a adult adopted person in an airport far from their home and not expect them to feel abandoned, again.
When I did get to the airport, she was obviously greatly relieved. I was also happy there were few people to witness our awkward greeting. Do we hug? Neither of us big huggers. Do we shake hands? Oh, this was the early 90s, women did not easily or automatically shake hands yet. I always envied men of this accepted greeting ritual. But I digress. Off we went to have some quiet time to get to know each other a little more in person before I took her to my place, once I figured she seemed harmless to my family.
She had the unpleasant task of letting me know that her search for our birth mother had ended with a refusal to meet with us. So we united in requesting any updated medical information about her and any family medical information we should be aware of. We also asked for a photograph. Not a recent one, but one of her somewhere between the age she was when she gave birth to my sister and the age she was when she gave birth to me, three years later. Then, together, we went through the stages of grief. I am so glad we had each other because only we could understand what this felt like. For her to have given up the right to parent us over 30 years ago when she was very young was one thing, for her to give up the right to meet us now was very painful. I feel like, if there had been an openness agreement where she had agreed to give and receive non-identifying information about us, things may have been different. She would have known we were doing ok and we would have known that she had married and had four more children. She saw her children as a reason not to meet us. We saw her children as our half siblings and my sister and I made a pact. If we ever learned of our birth mother’s passing, we would reach out to our half-siblings. Stay tuned for part 4 of What If It Had Been Open, to see how that went!
Want to ask questions? I’m always open to your comments or your emails. Feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.