John Nooney: Adoption

“Have you found your birth-mother?” is, more often than not, the first thing people ask me when I mention I am an adopted child.

Think about that.

When you share information about yourself, it is the first response that matters most; the first reply has the biggest emotional impact.

So, if the first response to news of adoption is wanting to know if you’ve found your birth-mother (often stated as Real Mother), one begins to feel they need to seek her out.

People ask this particular question, breathless with excited anticipation of an affirmative answer — they’re wanting a feel good story, with a big, bold headline: “Adopted Child Reunited With Real Mother!”

The question ends up making me feel as if the asker somehow views my adoptive parents (the people I think of as my only parents) as being inferior to Real Parents. It’s like they imagine I was kidnapped from my Real Mother, raised by people pretending to be my parents, and that I need to be rescued and returned to The Real Parents.

It’s insane.

And, it’s hurtful.

I’ve not spent much time thinking about my birth-parents. Sure, I’m curious what they look like, what their story is, and, more importantly, what their medical history is, so I know what to watch for. Other than that, I have little interest in them. Not for bad reasons — I don’t hate them for giving me up for adoption. I think my birth-mother made the best choice she knew how to make at the time. When people want to know if I’ve sought her out, I begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Am I supposed to find her? Is there supposed to be a yearning for my Real Mother’s loving arms?

They say mothers have an unbreakable bond with the child they carried in their womb, that they’d do anything to protect that child. Am I, as the child in the womb, supposed to have that same unbreakable bond?

I don’t feel that bond.

I thought of searching, but when I began to think about the consequences of finding my birth-mother, I lost interest. What if she was married to a billionaire? Would I then hate my middle-class roots? What if she turned out to be a meth-addicted prostitute? How would I feel then? Knowledge can be dangerous. I was scared of what I might find — and what I might or might not feel.

I’ve spent many helpful hours in therapy over the years, though I’ve left several therapists because they’ve tried to convince me that my issues started by being abandoned by my birth-mother; that even though I was newborn, I was able to sense her abandoning of me, and its impact is at the root of many of my issues.

One thing I have absolutely no doubt about: I do not feel that my birth mother abandoned me.

We don’t know what communication passes between mother and fetus —  though we often surmise. Perhaps because giving up a child is such a gut-wrenching decision for a mother, the trauma she feels imprints itself on her unborn child, and, perhaps, leaves some children with a sense of an emotional abandonment.

Maybe there is a reverse that is also true: maybe a mother can tell her unborn child that it is being given up for the best reasons, that the decision she is making is one made out of an unimaginable love — a love that wants her child to have a home better than the one she can provide. And, maybe, communicating that love can leave an adopted child feeling that it hasn’t been abandoned, but that it is a child, being given as a gift — a great gift.

Sentimental claptrap? Maybe.

Our society runs on the belief of individuality. We take pride that we’re all different, that everyone’s story is not the same. Yet, we’ll try to claim that every adopted child should feel abandoned? It makes no sense. We are either all different, with different stories, or we’re not.

Growing up, my mother told me a story:

“There was a man and a woman who loved each other very much. They wanted to have a family, but, unfortunately they couldn’t have kids. One day, they got a phone call — there was a young woman who was having a baby, but, she was young, and was struggling to make ends meet. She wanted her baby to have a better home than she was able to give him. She knew that the man and woman would give her baby a loving home. So, the man and woman got on a plane, and, when they came home, they had the young girl’s baby with them. They were very happy to have him, and they loved him very much. There are many kids in this world who live in homes where they aren’t loved or wanted,” my mom would say, “and adopted children are special: they’re wanted very much.”

Mom would ask if I knew who the man and woman were, and I’d say “you and dad”.  It was a story I liked to be told, and would often ask to hear it.  I especially liked the ending: they were happy to have him; they loved him.

Adoption gives birth to thoughts and feelings across the emotional spectrum: from feelings of profound love, to feelings of despair and abandonment. Mixed in with those feelings, at least for me, is a sense of loyalty to the people who adopted me, who opened their hearts and home to me. Along with that sense of loyalty goes a sense of obligation: to believe that adoption is ok, that it’s a wonderful, loving thing. I grew up in an environment that felt loving, so it was something I never questioned.

I’m adopted, but it doesn’t change the fact that my family is as much a family as anyone else’s family.  We’ve managed to look past the wounds and the scars that all families accumulate over the years. I like to think that in spite of all the pain and hurt, that when we look at each other, we see the love, see the strength of a love that’s been tested and that still holds us together.

Afterword: “This is my telling of one person’s adoption: mine. I am in no way trying to say that my words apply to all adopted children. My opinions on adoption may be different than yours — and, that’s ok. Adoption, just like any other family issue, is unique to each individual and each family. Please do not interpret my words as a generalization of the experiences of all adopted children. This is my tale, my story, my thoughts.”

© John Nooney 2014
blog: Johnbalaya


13 thoughts on “John Nooney: Adoption

  1. Interesting, thanks, and only a difficult issue if we choose to make it one, I suppose. I do have a certain awkwardness aroung this, having only recently learned that a friend was adopted, then asking about their “biological parents”, not with the “Have you found them?” question but just as a “Did you ever know them?” question, then wondering if I had used an indelicate term, or was making an insensitive enquiry. But there was a relevance to the “biological” issue, as we were discussing physical/medical traits. I also have an adopted niece, and sometimes find myself forgetting that (which is a good thing, I suppose) but in doing so saying something awkward (like presuming inheritence of traits when there could not be any (biologically).

    • I think you’re partially correct in saying that it’s a difficult issue if we choose to make it so. Mostly, I think you’re correct. But, I think we need to allow some room for variety in human behavior and thought. No matter how positively we approach the topic of adoption, I think there will always be some who feel abandoned, or have issues with it. I think if you’re a child who’s adopted, and you’ve ended up in an abusive household, it’s tough to imagine that child not having issues with adoption. We can do things to make adoption a positive thing, but, like anything else in this world, we can’t make it perfect.

      As for approaching someone on the topic of adoption — again, I think one cannot say that what’s appropriate for one person will be appropriate for another. I have known adopted children who keep their adoption secret (for a variety of reasons, from simple privacy, to more complex reasons like shame). Asking an adopted child about their birth-parents is a tough thing, and, from where I stand, I think it’s a topic best left to the adoptee to broach.

      Biologically speaking, I have more of an interest in my birth-parents, because I wonder what health issues they might have developed that I might have inherited; I wonder how much of who I am is nature, versus the nurture part of me. Sadly, many states still have laws that keep adoption records sealed, though I understand that nowadays, adoptive parents have a bit more medical information about their adoptive child’s birth parents (at least, in some states).

      And, as for your niece, I’d say that it’s good that you forget … she’s part of your family now. The fact that she’s adopted is not terribly important.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my tale, and for leaving such a thoughtful comment.

    • Thank you. I appreciate that. There are those who don’t understand how I can be so sympathetic towards my birth-mother. I’ve had people tell me that I should be angry at her for “giving me away.” One thing that life has taught me — in my own life, and watching the lives of people around me, is that blood-relationships can be just as tangled and messy as any other kind of relationship. Our family is who we want it to be — we can have blood family, but, the “family” that we love and are closest too is often made up of lots of people we aren’t related to.

      I look at my birth-mother as a young girl who needed to make a choice — and it was a choice that she thought would be best for us both. How can I not respect that? Even if her reason was purely selfish on her part, the fact that she thought enough of me to try and get me placed into a good home says to me that, selfish or not, she tried to do right by me.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my tale, and to comment. Much appreciated.

  2. Pingback: strata of the self | Johnbalaya

    • It’s funny that you mention that… as I was writing this, I was thinking that I’ve certainly asked my share of cringe-worthy questions. Which, actually, turned out to be good… because I learned something about myself. I saw some of the things I’ve asked people in a different way, and will, in future, try to avoid those kinds of questions.

  3. I do not buy the “undying bond between mother and child” as a given. That. I believe, is a societal concept and one that some societies provably do not share. Perhaps it is possible, but as you say, if so, then the reverse is also just as possible.

    The bonds that we willingly, knowingly create out of love are far more real to me.

    You have a very compassionate and thoughtful outlook, thanks no doubt to the love of your mom and dad.
    Thank you for sharing your story, John.

  4. Dear John, I read your words and story with great interest. You sound like a very thoughtful person. I was one of those people who could not have a child. Eventually my husband and I chose to adopt a boy who was 14 when we met him, and almost 16 when the adoption was finalized.

    Jesse’s story is full of violence and is sordidly sad. No one asks him if he has found his birth mother! We three found each other and chose to make a family together. I struggled with the fact that I had never seen him as a baby, naked and vulnerable; that I had not shepherded him through the childhood illnesses, fed him food as an infant. He told me once when we were talking about this that those things are not important. “You are the only Real Mother I have ever had and I love you,” was his statement. I feel very blessed.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  5. Hi John. My adoption story is very similar to yours. Mum and Dad told me their own version of the “where do I come from?” story and I also loved to hear it again and again. My real family is the family I know and love. Nothing else matters.

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