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April 14, 2010

Adopted Children

100_1487 Because I am an ex-patriot, I didn't receive a census form to fill out. The government keeps a loose tab on the number of American citizens living abroad, but it doesn't seek to quantify our lives in any meaningful way beyond making sure we still fill out our tax forms every April. But I heard via talk radio and the blogs that Uncle Sam was particularly picky about who makes up the average American household. Specifically he wanted to know about the genetic make up of people's children beyond their preferred racial/ethnic designation. If a person was blessed with children were they biological or adopted?


On the surface it seems a very celebrity magazine type of question. How many times, for example, have Brad and Angie's kids been parsed by their bio or adopted status for the public to ponder before consuming? Being adopted myself, I have always been a bit offended by the media's near-fetish with idea that a celebrity's child needs to be classified as "womb-grown" or "acquired". What difference does that make? And is it anyone's business really?
The census question deeply offended many adopted parents. I can understand why though I don't count myself offended on my own parents behalf because neither of them ever expressed much outrage when the topic of the adoption of myself and my siblings came up. We were adopted. They were adoptive parents. And we were not any different than any other family in our community in terms of function. End of discussion.

I had cause to think about this "being adopted" thing a bit more on my last holiday in the states. Taking a day to explore my hometown, as one who doesn't live there anymore, I ran across the building that was once the home for unwed mothers. It's owned by the Catholic church and is home to a site of perpetual adoration now. I had my husband stop the truck, so I could get out and snap a photo or two of a place where my birth-mother and I had once "lived" together so long ago. 

As I wandered the front lawn, I surveyed the many windows and wondered which room was hers, and if there were any evidence of her stay tucked away in an old file cabinet or dusty boxes in storage. When I was talking a bit with my mom later, she recalled that my birth mother had been a local girl. Something I had never know.

"How did you know that?" I asked.

"It was her last name," Mom said. "I just remember thinking that it was a common local one."

"You knew her name?" I was surprised. "I didn't know they told parents the birth mom's name."

"Oh, it was in the papers they gave us. Your dad insisted on burning all that. I always wished I'd stood up to him about that. It's wasn't his right to do that."

I have never tried to find my birthparents. I don't want to disturb their lives. I felt that if they wanted to know me, it was easier for them to simply contact the agency I was adopted through to ascertain my whereabouts than for me to search. 

My younger sister searched out her adopted mother several years ago. She maintains a relationship with her that is more friends than mom/daughter. Kate admits to being sometimes over-whelmed by the emotions that pour through the telephone when they speak every few months.

"I told her she has to stop crying whenever we talk," she told me. 
But Kate is her only child. How can she not be flattened every time she has a chance to communicate with a daughter she never expected to know at all?

Her birthfather refused contact. He has other six children and lives in the same small town where he and my sister's birthmother were high school sweethearts. He'd wanted to marry her and raise Kate, but she saw that they weren't meant to be together. He still hasn't gotten over that, so he continues to decline contact.

During a weekend class I took for my education master's years ago, I ran across a woman from this small town who reminded me so much of my sister, I had to call her and tell her about it. She looked to be a bit younger but the face, the voice, the gestures - they were my sister.

When my late husband and I were trying desperately to have a child, and the options came down to IVF or adoption, I let him presuade me to IVF. I have to admit I was easily persuaded. I wanted that biological connection. It was important in a way I really can't explain.

People with biological ties take for granted the physical features that mirror their own at family gatherings. They know who they take after in terms of personality and skills. There is a grandmother, auntie or cousin who they remind everyone of, or they are mistaken on the phone for their mother or sister.

I look at my daughter and mostly see her dad. She looks more like him than me. But she has my chin, my long arms and legs, and she has always thrown a ball like a boy - just like me - and she can't carry a tune in a bucket - just like me. Her eyes change color with her mood like mine do, and her hair is thick and unruly too. She is my only tie to a genetic line I will never know anything about and that's a big deal.

It doesn't mean I don't love my mom and dad or that I don't consider their biological family my family. It's just a fact of my existence. Something I don't expect people who are not adopted themselves to understand. And it's why I do get, even if I think it's unwarranted, the "obsession" society has with quantifying bio and adopted children because on some level, for reasons that are varied and personal to each of us - it matters.

Original post to 50-Something Moms Blog.

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