What I wish

I generally don’t wish that I was not adopted. That seems pointless to me — wishing that my life was not the way it is, wishing that reality wasn’t. I don’t know anything other than life as a person who was adopted in infancy. That’s part of who I am, part of my story. Wishing doesn’t change it.

But I can’t help wishing that other things had been different. I can accept adoption as the decision others made for me when I couldn’t make decisions. I can’t accept that life was harder for me because my parents were given lousy information about adoption — information that was provably untrue when I was born, is still untrue, and still prevails in attitudes today. Knowledge is power.

I wish my parents had known that it was important to acknowledge not just that I was adopted, but that I had other parents, other family, other relations out there. “Out there” in the vast unknown, were people who would explain my small bone structure, my absolute lack of all athletic ability, my night owl tendencies. I was raised in a family of what my mother liked to call “peasant stock,” athletically-inclined morning people. I knew I was adopted. I did not know where all these parts of me originated.

I wish my parents had known that telling me I was adopted wasn’t enough. That I was not going to come to them with questions. That I didn’t have the words for things that I felt and thought, and that I knew that it was somewhat off-limits. At best, it was awkward, like the sex talk, but that I also needed to know, continually, that it was safe to wonder, to ask, to feel the loss. I needed them to create the conversation, to create the openings, to help me find the language.

I wish I had known that it was normal to be sad sometimes, especially around birthdays and “landmarks” (the age she was when I was born, for example).

I wish that I’d known that the identity formation part of adolescence might be harder; that not knowing anyone who looked like me or thought like me or had my specific talents and proclivities is a lack that all the love in the world doesn’t make up for. I wish I had known that wanting to see myself in other people, to feel understood, was normal, not a sign that I was broken and falling apart. I wish I had known that I would be seeking that, and not finding it, and that this was a loss.

I wish I had known that it was okay to search. It took me 13 years from when I first wanted to search until I did. I missed the chance to know my grandparents because I was scared to admit that I wanted to know. I was afraid to hurt my parents’ feelings. I missed having both of them with me on this search, as my father died, too, before I found the courage.

I wish I had known how much finding other adoptees to talk to would feel like home, in a way that I’d never felt before. In finding my tribe, I found people I can talk to about the confusions of being adopted without explaining myself. Without struggling to find words for things that no one ever seems to understand, even when they are sympathetic. Other adoptees understand.

Adoption myths hurt children who are adopted. I hear, still, that newborn babies are blank slates who will not remember any life other than that they have with their adopted parents. We don’t remember anything else, no, but we are not blank slates, and many of us feel a loss we can’t articulate for decades, a hole that makes many of us feel broken because it’s never acknowledged. We learn to hide it, in hopes that we might be worthy of the love we receive from our parents, in hopes that we may pretend to live normally. I don’t think it’s the hole that damages us most. I think it’s the fear and hiding of that hole. No one acknowledges it, so it must be shameful.

We deserve to be whole. We are all worthy of love even in our brokenness. I speak up in the small hope that, if enough of us do, children adopted today will not live with hidden unacknowledged holes in themselves. The truth about adoption is that it is a sad, last resort option, and it comes out of pain and loss. If we can acknowledge that, then, when adoption is necessary, maybe we can make it better.

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