Welcome back to Blogville where the tea is hot and so is the topic sometimes. I have been talking about openness in adoption.
This is the fifth in a happenstance mini-series that occurred when I started talking about how openness in my adoption may have helped my parents and me. Eventually that led to my thoughts on how openness might have helped my birth siblings and me. Today’s blog is focussed on my paternal birth siblings, and me.
Openness can range from an annual update letter and maybe a photo provided to the birth parent(s), to face-face visits that are sometimes supervised by adoption workers, other times just in the company of all the parents, or even just the birth parents and the child/children. Openness among siblings is more common, especially when siblings are not able to be adopted into the same family. Society has finally started to realize that the babies who are legally freed for adoption have a right to their sibling relationship. If they can’t be adopted together, siblings should at least know that each other exists and how they are doing. As I have already mentioned in previous blogs, during the late 50s and early 60s, openness was not a consideration in the adoption process.
In my experience, when siblings grow up not knowing that they have birth siblings from their birth parents, finding this out can be a bit of a shock. Speaking personally, I found the shock of the news was softened when it was delivered by the birth parent to the adult children as opposed to finding out other ways. I can only measure this in my own experience with the way my paternal birth siblings accepted, without much question, that I was their birth half-sister; while my maternal birth siblings needed some time to fact find before they were able to offer their wholehearted acceptance.
Folks might argue with me here, but it is also my experience that society empathizes with birth fathers when their infants are placed with adoptive families while at the same time mercilessly judging birth mothers. My birth father was never even contacted by the adoption agency so that he might exercise his parental rights! As was often the norm, all blame and decision making fell to the birth mothers. In my own case, following my birth, my birth mother and her family actually moved from their community due to the shame of her having given birth twice, ‘out of wedlock’.
Could this be why our birth parents’ subsequent children were never even told about us, let alone allowed contact with my older sister and I through openness? The children later born to our birth parents were not factored in to our adoption journeys until many years later, when my sister and I took the first steps to find them.
As I noted in a previous blog, I feel that at minimum there should have been some form of openness between the family who adopted my older birth sister and my family. To be frank, the family who adopted my sister should have been contacted to consider adopting me as well, to keep us together when we had each already lost so much.
In my case, my birth father was never notified of my birth mother’s pregnancy, nor my subsequent birth. His parental options/rights were also denied him by the adoption agency even though my birth mother had identified him. However, before you blame the birth mother alone, I must point out the notion that after having intimate relations with someone, a man might follow up with her, even after leaving her community. I’m just sayin’.
While my birth mother was spending time in a strange community in a home for unwed mothers, my birth father had met, and fallen in love with, a woman with a daughter just a few months older than me. This little girl grew up as his daughter while I, his birth daughter, was being raised by strangers. The irony should not escape you; as it did not escape me when I realized this is what had happened.
When my birth father was notified of my existence, he immediately agreed to speak with me. Initially, he was not sure that I was actually his biological child and was ready to ask for DNA testing, until he heard my voice, and he somehow knew I was his daughter. He proudly talked about his other children and asked me for time to be able to speak to them about me. Following our first telephone call my birth father made up and mailed a sweet ‘birth announcement’ card, and included a tiny little cigar. Giving out cigars was tradition among new fathers at that time. My birth father told me he had two daughters and two sons, but that sadly one of his sons had passed away. I felt inexplicably robbed of the opportunity to meet this brother.
So many emotions!
Joy at being immediately acknowledged and accepted by my birth father.
Jealousy at the fact he raised a daughter born to other biological parents while I was being raised by non-biological parents.
Sadness that I never knew and would never know one of my paternal birth brothers. Disappointment at how my birth father lived the cliché of having intimate relations with my birth mother and never looking back.
Fear that his other children may not accept me.
Happily, my fear was unfounded. In fact, I met my birth father’s other children before I even met him. Ironically, these birth siblings live in or near the same community as, I would later discover, most of my maternal half siblings do. Actually, my birth parents had even resided in that same community at one point, married to different people and raising their families there. I often wonder if they ever unknowingly passed each other in the local mall, or grocery store. I can only imagine what an unexpected meeting might have looked like! Somehow, I picture abandoned carts full of items, swinging store doors, and two people running to their cars.
Within months of first contact with my paternal birth siblings I had a business event in their neighbourhood in Southern Ontario so they invited me to meet and spend some time with them. When I met them I had never felt so insecure in my life!!! My outside was saying, ‘WOW, these are my actual birth siblings’!!! My inside was saying all kinds of stuff like, ’They are not going to like you.’ ‘Who do you think you are?’ ‘You probably don’t look anything like anyone.’ I cannot tell you how hard it was to be there in those moments, how out of place I felt, but then I realized that these are my genetic half siblings (well except for the one born in the same year as me, but at least we had the same hair colour lol). Eventually I realized that they, and their children, were genetically stuck with me! I felt better then.
I met so many people all at once, struggling to keep names straight, trying to enjoy being with biological family members when I wasn’t sure if I should be. Was I being disloyal to my parents and my brother? But, WOW, I got to meet my actual birth siblings!
I have this little photo album with pictures of my paternal siblings’ family events; weddings, camping events, Christmas gatherings, photos with pets, family dinners, photos with children and grandchildren, well, you know what I mean. These photos were sent to me by my birth father and my siblings when they learned of my existence. No words can describe how bittersweet this album is for me. I mentioned in a previous blog that a photo of three of my birth father’s children eating ice cream cones had inspired a rush of feelings themed, “Where is my ice cream?”
Finally, we were able to meet and I found them all to be incredible people; warm, welcoming, and accepting. They taught me about their dad and what it was like to be his kids. They taught me what it was like to have siblings that you are blood related to; not really any different from siblings related to you through adoption if I’m honest. They showed me how to look at resemblances in family pictures and in those dreaded school pictures. My school photos were always proudly displayed in our home but never discussed in terms of who I looked like. Trust me, I was scouring those pictures seeking, sometimes finding, resemblances to these siblings. When I got home from meeting my birth siblings I pulled out that little photo album, looking at it with new eyes.
But I digress. It was a whirlwind time of meeting people, each of us sneaking looks at the other to see if I looked at all like their dad (our dad?). Words cannot express how it felt to be accepted by these kind people as a sibling. They acknowledged me as one of them. They were my brother and sister, and my bonus ‘step-sister’. We shared a birth father, but not a history, we would have to get to work on creating our own history as siblings.