Adoption, shame, and body image

I wrote a bit about shame in a prior post — my shameful conception story. But I’ve realized recently that adoption made me ashamed of my body.

I am not a large human being. I have small bones, a small build, and while I’m of average height, I’m smaller than average in every other sense. My adoptive family is large of stature and build — my adoptive mother called it “peasant farmer” build, but whatever it is, I don’t have it. When my mother gave me an older watch of hers, we not only had to take out the links she’d added, but another few to make it fit my small wrists.

I knew that I was adopted. As far as I can tell, I’ve always known. I didn’t really understand what that meant, though. I somehow thought, as I entered adolescence, that I’d start to resemble the women I knew — my adoptive mother, her sisters, and their mother, my grandmother, who lived with us. That when I finally grew breasts, that’s what they would look like. It’s comical, as my adoptive mother pointed out to me when I finally asked. I would literally tip over if I had her chest on my frame, and I don’t. But there was no mirroring, and without it, I made assumptions. “AS IF BORN TO.” My body didn’t look like anything I saw around me, and I didn’t know what to do with that. I assumed that the problem was me.

I’ve likely mentioned before my lack of athletic prowess. My adoptive parents and adopted brother are all natural athletes. None of them understand why I can’t even figure out something as simple as bowling. I can’t. My body doesn’t do that. It just can’t. Since everyone else’s could, mine must be broken, wrong, flawed.

I have also been somewhat sickly since birth. I was born ill (curable, common, but not the picture of good health). I suffered repeated ear infections as a child, and from late elementary school, I’ve had digestive issues, headaches, and a bunch of unexplained random weaknesses for most of my life. My adoptive family is all hale and hearty, rarely suffering anything even as bad as a cold. I remember my adoptive mother being sick, in bed sick, ONCE in my childhood. Most of my ill health is “ideopathic,” which is medical speak for “we have no idea at all.” Much of it has boiled down, over the years, to malabsorption of nutrients leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. No one tests for these things, common as they are, which has left me feeling like — and treated like — a hypochondriac. This means that I started lying about my health — pretending I was fine even when I wanted to curl up and die — when I was about 9 or 10. If I didn’t (or couldn’t), I ended up dragged to another doctor, talked down to, and treated like I was an idiot (by the doctors, although my family really couldn’t understand what was wrong, either).

My body does not work effectively. Among my many reasons for remaining child-free, my health issues are high on the list. I don’t want to stress my body that way when I still don’t really know what’s wrong with it, and I don’t want to pass down the genes that make me this way. But because my family never understood what was wrong with me, they brushed it off. I made do. I played along as much as I could. And I feel deeply ashamed of “causing a fuss” whenever my body shuts down, or veers off course, or knocks me down for the count.

I don’t know if this would have been different with my natural family, but at least the mirroring issue would have been solved. I don’t wish, as I’ve said before, for a different life. This is the one I have. This is also the body I have, and while I may curse its inadequacies, I’m also stuck with it. But I am having to learn what those caring for me should have taught: that I am worthy of care and consideration when I am not at my best. That it is not my fault that my best isn’t as good as many other people’s. That it is not my fault that I am not well all the time. That blame is useless in this situation, that I cannot fix these things, that wishing it was different is  a waste of my already limited energies.

The process of adulthood seems to me to consist, in large part, with making peace with who I am, actually, really, in practice. It means giving up dreams that are unrealistic or no longer fit in order to hone in on dreams that have potential. It is, somewhat, about focus. While the options narrow, they also come into focus. This process of acceptance, of making choices, of living with one’s decisions, definitely has sad parts — the giving up on lives I will not live.

But going through that process before I began my search for roots gave me a different perspective. As an adoptee, growing up, the possibilities for who I might be were limitless. I had no roots, so I had no clue what might come as I grew up. In beginning to search, I was opening some doors and closing others. In finding out my truths, I was foreclosing any other possible pasts. I was choosing to accept the outcome of that search, finally, whatever it might be.

The current road I am on is acceptance of me, this body I live in, and how it works. My body is under great stress, and I am learning how to manage it. I have lived with great stress for most of my life, mostly sublimated, and I am old enough that this no longer works. I’m not strong enough to continue to ignore these manifestations of stress. Searching was stressful. Reunion was stressful. Finding out the truths of my first parents was stressful. But so was not knowing. At least the answers give me some measure of peace.


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