Sunday, May 25, 2014

An Adoptee Confession

A recent blog post on the website Creating a Family shared the story of an adoptive mother who described herself as having been "blindsided" by the revelation that her adult adopted daughter had been building a relationship with her original mother over the years.

I started to leave a comment on the blog, but I had so much to say and so many conflicting emotions that I found myself stymied.

The adoptive mom describes herself and her husband as "full of fear and puzzlement," and her anguish stirs up something in me that is probably related to my own guilt, confusion, and sadness about why I hold back parts of myself from my adoptive parents, and sometimes also from others.

Here's my confession, and for some reason it's a particularly hard one for me to share:

My adoptive parents know only a small part of who I am. I hide other parts from them.

I don't reveal the whole of myself to my parents, and perhaps this is not uncommon, even for non-adoptees. Don't we all reveal different parts of ourselves in different relationships? Surely many of us -- adopted or not -- play a role in the families we grew up in that is different from the full expression of our adult selves.

I have a complex relationship with my adoptive parents, and especially with my adoptive mother, as is also true for many non-adopted people. So, why do I feel so guilty?

There is an aspect of my guilt that seems to be adoptee-specific. Adoptees are only allowed one official emotion in relation to our adoptive parents, and that is gratitude. I want to emphasize that this is certainly not something that my parents ever told me, but I got the message anyway from the broader culture. Adoptees receive that message in countless ways throughout our lives -- sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.

Another aspect of the guilt lies in the specific nature of what I hold back. I hold back details of my reunion with my original family. I hold back the complexity and the depth of my adoption-related emotions and struggles. I hold back parts of my personality and leanings that seem to be genetically acquired ... the parts that don't "fit" in the adoptive family.

I am sad about this. I am 47 years old and still trying to make myself small enough to fit into the space of an expectation.

My parents didn't get what they signed up for. I know that. They were told I was a blank slate. They were told that adoption wouldn't affect me in any significant way. They were told that they should tell me early on that I was adopted and that as long as they did that, carefully explaining that I was loved and chosen, all would be well. I would be, for all intents and purposes, no different than as if I was born into the family.

But that was an untruth. I was never a blank slate. I am different than the child my parents would have created from their own genetic material. Being adopted is different than not being so. Adoptedness is a significant factor in who I am.

Michal Marcol
Why do I hold back parts of myself? I do so, in part, to protect my parents, and I also do so to protect myself. On one level I know that I am loved by them and that their love is unconditional. On another level, I don't fully trust that. Could my parents really handle it if I showed up with all of who I am, including my adoption-related pain? Could I handle it, if I saw them recoil, "blindsided" by my betrayal?

Betrayal. Betrayer. I am the betrayer. I must betray them or betray myself. I cannot win.

To be myself, rather than the daughter of their expectations, is a betrayal. I know that. But here's the rub: it is also a betrayal to imply that their love is conditional or that they would want me to be anything less than myself. Haven't they always told me that they love me? Haven't they always only wanted what was best for me, as any parent would?

My parents are good people who have tried hard to do the right things and to be the right kind of adoptive parents. I often tell people that they did a good job of "nurturing my nature." What's more, they always supported my reunion with my first family.

But I've also noticed that my mother has a tendency to forget things that I've shared about my relationship with my original family. She is not typically a forgetful person, and I have therefore long suspected that this particular forgetting is self-protective. When I tell my adoptive parents things about my relationship with my biological family members, they seem mildly but not especially interested. I never get the sense that they want more details; rather, I perceive them as wanting as few details as possible. I worry that my relationship with my original family is painful for my adoptive family, and I don't want to cause them pain. So I hold back for that reason, but I also hold back for the opposite reason. My relationship with my original family is extremely important to me. I don't want to taint it by sharing it with people who can't fully appreciate that and celebrate it with me.

I suspect I am not the only writer who finds it easier to share my work with strangers on the Internet than with my own family members, but in my case there is also the additional factor of my subject matter. When I was growing up, adoption was something we didn't talk about outside the family. Now I air my laundry in public. As a writer I reach into the innermost place and pull out what is most raw and personal. I turn myself inside out, bringing what was hidden into the light.

And what do I find in the innermost place? I find all my complicated feelings about being an adopted person.

I did try once try to talk to my adoptive mother about my journey of discovery as an adoptee. It didn't go well. She seemed uncomfortable and soon changed the subject.

Am I reading too much into the small signals of my adoptive parents? Maybe. But this is part of the adoptee package. For as long as I can remember I have been alert to signals from other people, looking for clues to how I should act and, in essence, who I should be. I wish I could drop this. I wish I could just be as I am, and trust that people (including my adoptive parents) will accept me or not, and be fine with that.

I've made a lot of progress through the years, but I'm not there yet. Maybe someday.


  1. Thanks for your comment. I'm an AP, too, so I also struggle with how to get things right from that side. I don't know the answer in any absolute sense, but like you I try to be as open and honest as I can, in age appropriate ways, and to create an accepting environment for my daughter to talk to me about whatever's up for her. And I hope for the best. As you say, time will tell.

  2. Living your whole life of 47 years divided is not healthy and all I can say is get some help or you will be emotionally crippled for the rest of your life. You do not OWE anyone anything. This is your life to live as you choose. Your parents knew when they adopted that you were biologically connected to living people so why feel guilty you found? They agreed to the deal and know in their hearts they are not your mother and father but imposters and foist all that shit on you which makes me very angry. My son had the same shit piled on him and its not fair or right so make a choice to live free or die. You can change these crappy patterns and sick ways of thinking if you really want to. I cannot imagine anyone ever making me feel guilty the way you feel. so sad, but change can come.

  3. I don't know if your Christian but if you were praying at times when you think your all alone well,being 65 not adopted but a mother of loss due to the adoption industry that coreced your AP's,I don't like the word birthmother or the label (adoptee)someone back in the day of the industry made up another language to separate you and the 1st mother ever existing-just you and them,destroying all your identification.If I had known that even though my story was like in a movie with having a baby ,abandoned by my x husband that literally wanted to kill us all,he flipped out one day close to my birth,me baby to be and older son Michael 4 ran out of the house just in time,thepolice said he was a hardened criminal,he told me he was a race car driver-I was very naïve.Anyway when I pray or cry and pray I was frustrated why he allowed these rhings to happen to innocent people and the bible has a passage that God hears all prayers -he said to listen behind your ears in a quiet if possible room,the quiet room is a prop for us so we believe he hears us as we don't need a quiet room due to scientific facts !!! He could hear us with the loudest noises and having said that he could hear a tiny hair fall.I so love how you had the courage to speak out and up.I believe it is that special time Gods giving you to be heard all over the world and you will.I hope you join up with the famous author,our favorite (the Cherokee Indain ) she writes the most incredible books she would love to hear your story ,I just know this!!!!!Her name in Facebook Or Google + is Trace DeMeyer .Her indain name is 4 feathers,shes a go getter -Her story is also sad,all our stories are a movie of Acadamy Award Reward for them and info to their peers and the 1st mothers as well.My son is 41 and the social worker lied at the worst time ,as the agency charges more as the mother finds more blood relatives to contact where they were relinquished (example ) Childrens Home Society is like Gladneys in Texas-SEALED like something NASA did so to speak .The adoptees are coerced just like the 1st mothers were with a hefty price and by snail mail,notorized signed in triplicut,the adoptee has no other mediary than the same social worker in the dusty archives ,where she sits at the old government desk to give her that all mighty power,no adoptee gets anything incuding the 1st mother,the lie was giving his occupation-She said he was a lawyer with sectaries that gave her fake email,no phones for her contactor at his home,vacations.The lies lasted for 9 months 1 to 2 months apart until she closed it and told me the yes for contact was really a very slow contact? That did it I hung up and cried as she left me at a brick wall and bragged about it,seems like she went above the law and many more millions of mothers are confused ,susicidal,or put themselves in sanatariums.I prayed and being a Christian stops me because I would be committing a horrible sin besides the act,lifes too short as it is.Michael 43 was killed on his bicycle 2011 around Christmas and losing my son,my best friend was and is devastating.I am more determined to find my missing son than ever,time isn't on my side and brick walls to break down.God said those like you that try to keep the peace are his special ones as are we all that do those extra Godlike tasks ,he knows he understands,he has something alredy to help you hust keep waiting ,pray ,wait ,pray wait.What I want is contact before he calls me.You and adoptees like you make me want to touch the screen like a cartoon scene jump in this computer to give you all a hug.How I wish the best and more than you ever asked for dear.God Bless You Could you say a prayer for me and son that we have contact soon?

  4. I believe I feel the same way and being a male I definitely relate. Its quite an unusual connection the AP's connection to the Adoptive mother. There are things I tend not to share and its basically just a fear why I don't share. As you mentioned above we are trying to protect both them and ourselves. But in saying that I don't share with my bio mother, that is both a fear and trust. The rejection that is/was undermines my wanting to give absolute trust.

  5. Thank you for writing, I really resonate with this. You articulated so many of the feelings I have and try to reconcile on a daily basis about my relationships with both of my families. It's so complicated.

  6. I know this is an old post, but I'm just finding it, and it relates so much to what I've been thinking and dealing with. I shared some of my trauma and complicated feelings about reunion with my AM, and it nearly destroyed our relationship. She didn't want to listen and wouldn't (and also wouldn't admit it or talk about it) and I got angrier and more insistent. We finally did not talk for a while. We still can't talk it out, not at all, and we can't talk about it. But at least we're talking about something occasionally again.


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