I‘ve mentioned before, in passing, that I was adopted. I’ve always known I was. I can’t remember ever having “a talk” with my parents about the fact that I was adopted – it was always just out there. I was never embarrassed about it; in fact I think I was a little proud in some ways. My folks emphasized how special I was to them; how other kids were born to their parents, but that they chose me.
I’ve also mentioned that my Mom, the one who raised me, who is my hero, was plagued by issues regarding depression and anxiety from way back before I met her. While she tragically comes by those issues honestly, there were dynamics in her marriage with my Dad that exacerbated them (but that’s a story for another day). What‘s relevant here is that I almost didn’t stay with them.
They adopted a little girl about six months after me too and, between all the pressure, and the issues, and my Mom’s propensity for breaking periodically, there was a time a month or so after they adopted my sister that was profoundly dark for her. She spent some time in the hospital and Child Services almost took us both away. In the end they judged that I had bonded and that the house was still safe for me, but that Mom just didn’t have the resources then to take care of two of us.
I was spared, but my sister – my all-too-briefly-known little sister – was taken away and placed with a different family.
If you’ve read the posts about my Mom, you know that wasn’t the whole story on her. She had reserves of awesomeness that were, as yet, untapped; deep, amazing wells of strength and perseverance that were and are inspiring to me. But then… well, at that point everyone did the best they could and I ended up being an only child.
I have to say that I liked being an only child. I seemed (and seem) to be hardwired for aloneness – I can be alone, happily, without being lonely (although I am also fiercely enamored of my close friends and love to be with them). And I always got spoiled come gift giving time. I got my own room by default, always got the cool electronics hand-me-downs. It was a good deal.
I had a profoundly dark patch from around fourteen to eighteen years of age. In the midst of it, thinking that maybe it had something to do with my adopted-ness (it didn’t, not really, but that’s also part of that different story for a different day), my Mom, with the very best of intentions, registered me with the Adoption Registry in my province of birth. It took ten years for anything to come of that due to the complexities of "closed" and "partially open" adoption policies, but eventually I received a letter from a Social Worker and was invited to start the process of reuniting with my birth mother. We both jumped through their hoops and rang their bells to prove that neither of us were psychotic revenge-monsters and, after a few months, we were invited to speak to each other directly.
Those of you who love the irony and serendipity that is inherent in life will enjoy this bit: After twenty-six years, after I’d moved 1600 kilometers (1000 miles) from the middle of Canada to the left coast when I was seven, and after my bio-Mom moved twice after birthing me, we ended up living forty-five minutes apart. She lived in the next town over from mine. We were neighbors.
Mine was an adoption-reuniting best-case scenario. I met my bio-Mom one morining, had coffee with her and talked for a few hours, and then she took me with her to pick up my youngest brother from school. Then we went back to her house for dinner and I met my middle brother, then twenty-three. I went from just Mom and me, two against the world, to a big, messy, fun family in around four hours. And it worked, seamlessly. We were family before any of us even had time to think about it much. And we are family.
And It blows me away.
It blows me away that they accepted me, the son/older brother that they always knew about (I come from honest Moms, both the bio- and the adopto-), but never knew. It blows me away that, after being an only child for so long, I got to be a big brother to my youngest brother, and even coach him in hockey. It blows me away that my middle brother and I, both adults when we met, are friends in only the way brothers can be. It blows me away that my two Moms became friends (even if Mom, adopto-Mom, doesn't always remember that part of the story these days) and that my whole, massive new family was able to spend a couple holiday seasons together. It blows me away that the little brother I met that day is getting married next spring, and that I get to be a part of it.
I am a very fortunate little camper.
It isn't always like this. I’ve known other adoptees that have reunited with their bio-folks as adults. Their stories don’t always turn out as well as mine did. Often, there’s a lot of ambiguity – some good things and some not so good. And sometimes there are chasms of hurt that cannot be bridged at all. Even in the modern age with open adoptions, modern psychology, resource groups and guide books, the human psyche is just a whimsical, complicated, infinitely inscrutable thing. Sometimes time does not heal all wounds.
But that isn’t just an adoption issue. It’s a life issue. We all get to reap the benefits of that axiom. We’re fickle, fragile things, we humans. But we’re also tough too, tougher than nails by far, and full of surprises. We survive horrid things, and experience beautiful ones. Sometimes they help us grow, and sometimes they hold us back, and that's true whether the moment is joyful or tragic. Ultimately, it’s about what we make of them, what we choose.
To me, that’s perhaps the most beautiful thing about this goofy, bass-ackwards ramble through the tall grass that we call life: We always have a choice, if not about the circumstances, then at least about our reaction to them. And it’s never, ever too late.
Adoption is under fire these days in many quarters, and some of the criticism is valid. When I was adopted everything was done through government agencies, and there was no profit motive involved. Today, too often, there are those who see a buck in everything, and will do utterly ugly and reprehensible things to make one. That’s a problem, and one that absolutely needs to be addressed. That’s part of what Adoption Awareness Month is about: Shining a light on the dark places and dealing with those who treat birth mothers, adoptive parents, and most importantly the children, as commodities and revenue sources only. That needs to change, but those are problems with the industry that’s grown out of what used to be a state-controlled institution, not with the principle that underlies what adoption actually is.
At its root, adoption is about loved children that are given up for all the right reasons. It’s about mothers that want nothing but the best for the lives growing in them, and about parents that cannot have their own children but who still want to provide love and experience the miracle and profound responsibility of raising a human being. It’s about life and love and choices - really, utterly fucking hard ones - being made for the very best of reasons.
And I’m in good, nose-bleed-inducing company here. Without adoption there might not have been a Steve Jobs, or a Marilyn Monroe, or a Malcolm X. Or at least not the versions we know. Adoption can be, should be, one of those things that can make us stronger; that reinforces everything that is best about the world; that reaffirms our faith in the goodness of people and our ability to drag redemption out of imperfect circumstances.
That’s what it’s about to me, anyway. That’s what it’s about to the people I know, birth-mothers like mine who have made sacrifices to provide life to little lives, and parents that have nurtured those lives with all the strength and dignity they have within them. That's what Adoption Awareness Month should be about - celebrating the love and hope and sacrifice and redemption.
I’m profoundly grateful to my bio-Mom for having the grace and strength to give me up when I was born. And you know how I feel about Mom, the one that adopted me (if not, go follow the links). They both gave me gifts that would qualify for Master Card commercial punch lines: Priceless. I have two incredible women that love me as their kid, and that makes me pretty fucking lucky. I get that, I really do.
November is Adoption Awareness Month. Now you know...
A friend, Kelsey Stewart, who I met through Bloggers Unite, tuned me into Adoption Awareness Month. She even wrote a book, The Best For You about her experience with adoption as a birth mother, and it’s pretty cool.
November is also NaNoWriMo, which you should go read about over at IBC in a guest post by the always spectacular Judy Clement Wall, who is also known as @jdistraction in Twitterland, and who fills her own blog, Zebra Sounds, with amazing things all the time.