Last year I had the honor of being asked to contribute a chapter to my friend Lynn’s book, a compilation on adoptee topics. Her book is titled “The Adoptee Survival Guide” and is available through Amazon.
Always the Last to Know.
Have you ever wondered why,
Families keep secrets until they die?
This completely takes over who you are,
Carving within you an unbearable scar.
They day I learned that my parents had lied,
The soul within me stopped living; and died.
I felt as though I had just lost my very best friend,
Who was I now? Was I at my start, or at my end?
I found a quote soon after I learned that I was adopted. It reads, “The worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth.” This quote became my motto as I embarked on my new life as an adoptee. My story is quite complicated at times; it has been just over 7-years since my discovery though it still stings as though it were yesterday. The purpose of this essay is for me to reveal how I have faced the task of being a late-discovery-adoptee, though I am still far from the end of my journey.
All my life I felt a strange absence in my life. It was a feeling of loneliness and loss. I never could quite find the right words to explain these feelings; I always just figured I was an outcast due to being so much younger than the other kids in our family. I had no idea that I could be an adoptee until I began school in 1970. It was on the bus that kids bullied me by calling me “foster kid.” I brushed it off at first because as a 5-year-old kid I had no idea what it meant.
As I grew older I began to take notice of how my family regarded me. I had learned what a “Foster Kid” was, and I began to wonder if at anytime someone would tell me I was only a guest and that another family was coming to take me away? Evidence began to surface. I was not included in my paternal grandmother’s family bible. That same grandmother never provided me with a hand sewn quilt as she had for each of her other grandchildren. Then there was the photograph. It was a Polaroid of me when I was about 2-years-old. On the back of it was written, “Jeff our foster son.”
By the time I was 21-years-old I could not tolerate my internal struggle over my identity any longer. Having grown tired of pussy-footing around the topic with my parents, I threw my cards onto the table, called my parents, and asked, “Am I adopted?”
It could not have gone any worse. Dad yelled, mom cried. Both told me that I was wrong for questioning my relationship to them. Both lied to me and told me I was theirs.
For the first year after my discovery I walked the Earth in “Zombie Mode.” While I was mostly aware of the goings-on around me, I was detached from it all. I took no pleasure doing things that before had brought me great joy. I had no idea who I was; I felt betrayed, rejected, unwanted, and unworthy of anyone’s love. I sought solutions to my emptiness and pain. There were none.
The first time I turned on the radio in my car following discovery I heard a song that I had not before experienced. It was “Mother” written by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. This new-to-me version was sung by Sinead O’Connor. I instantly became engrossed in it. I immediately bought the album. I played this song repeatedly everyday for the next 5-and-a-half years.
It was one line from the lyrics of “Mother” that has ran through my mind over and over again since my discovery. “Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing, she won’t let you fly but she might let you sing” became my theme song. With each passing day I grew more and more resentful of my adoptive parents. I also grew angry with my other mom; the one who gave me away.
While I began my search for family the very same day as my discovery, by 2009 I had no more information than I had the day I begun. I realized that if I were to ever find my family I would need to have access to my Original Birth Certificate first. I fell into the ranks of the Adoptee Rights movement.
My first protest was in Philadelphia during July of 2009. It became one of my favorite life experiences. Like how Moses must have felt delivering the Jews to the Promised Land, I too felt I had finally landed right where I belonged. As we each met each other in and around the hotel over those 4-days I realized that although we each had different jobs and came from different kinds of families, we were all exactly the same within our souls. We each were denied our souls.
When asked, “How to Survive” regarding Late-Discovery-Adoption I drew a complete blank. I wondered, “Have I survived?” At least in the eyes of my fellow adoptees, and the moms who gave birth to us, I appear to be a survivor. Within my mind I have reservations. I am not convinced that adoption is survivable; it affects each of us for our entire life. Perhaps I can best offer some suggestions at how to cope with being a Late-Discovery-Adoptee.
Find a theme song. It seems every LDA has one. For me it was Sinead O’Connor’s “Mother.” For one of my friends it was “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. While I listened to this song daily, I found it meant the most to me when I was in a long hot bath alone with my thoughts and a few candles.
Be sure to share your story. Revealing yourself to others in the Late-Discovery community is a daunting task. It was the first time in my life that I felt genuine fear. I felt unworthy of having friendships with other adoptees. I was new to the scene while they had known all of their lives. Surprisingly I was immediately embraced not only by fellow LDA’s but likewise from the entire adoption community.
I took a vow the day I found out my truth. I pledged to live my adopted life with 100% transparency. My adoption experience is something I decided was not to be my shame, but rather my triumph. I have met fellow adoptees as well as our moms and dads who accepted me for who I am. They have become my family over these years. When I found my birth families, my community through adoption welcomed them included as well.
While our lives as LDA’s were shrouded in secrecy and lies, our stories belong to us. We need to reveal ourselves to others in our world. Perhaps one day there will be enough awareness of our pain and our plight that lies within adoption will finally grind to a halt. Until that time comes, we must always support each other and freely share ourselves.