I always knew I was adopted. It wasn’t something we talked much about in my family, and I can’t remember a specific incident of being told, it was just one of those family truths I knew to be true. The story I was told was that my parents went to a place (the details of the place were always vague) where there were many babies to choose from. When I saw them I immediately reached for them and that was how they knew I was the baby for them.
I was stunned as a young adult when I read Betty Jean Lifton’s Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience and learned the story was not uniquely my own, rather it was derived from Valentina Wasson’s book The Chosen Baby which was originally published in 1939. Adoptive parents were advised to tell their adoptive children Wasson’s story as if it were their own when explaining how they came to be part of their family. Even the somewhat-snobbish phrases that I was advised to use when talking to my friends about their parents having to take them, but my parents choosing me from a whole bunch of other babies was repeated in Lifton’s book.
The truth was that I had no right to know the name I was giving at birth, what nationality I was, my medical history, what character traits were passed to me from previous generations, or any other information that most of us take for granted. I grew up knowing there was an unspeakable mystery about the circumstances surrounding my birth, but also knowing it would be wrong for me to admit any curiosity about those circumstances; to do so would betray the parents who had adopted me and rescued me from an abhorrent situation. I was ashamed at the core of me, not for something I did, but for who I was. I was unwanted at birth and the situation was so terrible that records had to be sealed and kept secret.
In reality, my story is not nearly so dramatic, but the effect my psyche was the same. I felt as though I was dropped on the earth accidentally, unloved, and unwanted, and much of the time invisible. Despite adoptive parents who raised me in a loving home, the shame and sense of deep rejection would remain throughout much of my life.
Those who have studied the effects on a person who has been adoption under the closed adoption system will tell you that many of them share a common set of characteristics, strikingly similar to those of children of alcoholics, and yet different in that the trauma inflicted upon them has been different. You will hear descriptions of feelings of abandonment, powerlessness, low self-esteem, shame, rage, depression, numbness.
Many adoptees grow up to be angry adults. Once I was angry, although I had worked hard at repressing the anger for many years to the detriment of my physical and emotional health. It was only when I finally learned the truth about that I was able to let go of the anger and find healing.
I am in the process of writing my adoption memoir in the hope that it can help someone else. The more we learn about the hurt that is inflicted upon adopted children by asking them to act as if they are someone they are not and suppress the truth about who they really are, the more we will do things differently in the future.
That is my fervent hope