I am drawn to them like a moth to a lightbulb. And like a moth, I sometimes bump up against said lightbulb and singe myself. In my case the lightbulb represents TV shows about ancestry or searching for long-lost family. As an adoptee I have great interest in geneology.
The most recent programs I have become a devotee of are Who Do You Think You Are and Searching For…. The first follows a different celebrity each week as he or she traces their lineage with the help of various experts. It is more than just identifying names and dates as some researchers do, this program goes deeper and surfaces some of the experiences and characteristics of the ancestors; it brings them to life in a sense.
I am fortunate as an adoptee to have information about the lineage of my birth family back to the 1600s thanks to the hard work done by others in the family. But names on a chart even, in some cases, blurry pictures, do little to give me a sense of belonging to this family tree. I know that Jacob Letkeman, my Great Great Great Great Grandfather was born in 1685 in Prussia, but he is just a name on a piece of paper. I have a picture of my Great Grandfather who, looks strikingly similar to my son, and I have been told a few stories about that man and consequently he is more real to me.
I am saddened that I have no stories about my female ancestors and that is one of the reason why I am passionate about women writing and sharing their stories. Christina Baldwin in Storycatcher writes a beautiful illustration about how “without story, the artifacts of ordinary lives quickly lose significance and preciousness.” I wish I had room to quote the entire piece about an old chipped teacup that is of no value with out the story behind it.You’ll just have to get the book and read it for yourself!
Searching For… follows the work of Pam Slaton, a professional genealogist and adoptee, as she helps her clients find someone they care about. One of her clients on last night’s program was a birth mother searching for her daughter. I found myself inexplicably angry at this woman who gave her three children up for adoption after her husband left her when she was pregnant with her third child. The youngest, the one she was searching for, had not even been given a name when she was born.
My birth mother also gave three children up for adoption; perhaps that was part of the reason for my anger. The daughter was understandbly reluctant to meet her birth mother at first and, when I stepped back and observed what I was feeling, I realized I was hoping she would refuse to see her birth mother at all, that she would say that the woman had no right to meet the daughter she didn’ give a name to. In the end the reunion happened and, though reserved, the daughter agreed to slowly continue to get to know her birth mother.
Emotions around adoption, especially closed adoption, are complex. There are no easy answers and no right way to be an adult adoptee. I’m pleased that we are more open in discussing adoption today and that we don’t put a cover of secrecy and shame on a baby or child for something they had no control over.
Yes, it’s true, adoption is a blessing.
Let’s never forget that it is also a loss that needs to be grieved by those who have been torn apart.