I never seem to manage to make the time to blog much any more, and that’s a perfect microcosm of how it feels to be a working mother – there’s never enough time for anything. Which is crazy, because I have a million unwritten blog posts swirling in my head. Many of which are about the strange hinterland that is being a working mum (mom!) after years of infertility.
First things first: I am so grateful to be here. I still do a double take every single day when I wake up next to my beautiful boy and I realise that somehow, after all the struggle, I am a mother. How did this happen?, swirls through my mind every day. I thank all those people silently who helped that dream become a reality. And I don’t easily forget all the years where it didn’t seem possible.
Second things second: Being a mother after infertility is a strange thing to be… I feel like it’s almost a different thing from being a “normal” mother. I don’t think we post infertiles ever really forget the deep grief and fear, the joy-pain of pregnancy after loss, the hoping and wishing that something will go right after so many wrongs. My overwhelming emotion most of the time is deep joy and gratitude that I have managed to have this experience of carrying and giving birth to a human being… my first known biological relative.
Which brings me to the third point: Having a child after being adopted [in a closed adoption] is a huge thing. It’s monumental. Having a child after having been transracially, transnationally adopted – if you weren’t, you can’t even begin to comprehend the profundity of it. I couldn’t, before it happened to me, despite that person being me.
To look into my baby’s face and recognise my own – to feel that deep kinship, to feel joined to someone else when it has never happened before in my living memory – it’s the most gut wrenching joy-pain you can imagine. To realise what I lost as a baby. To realise what I’ve gained through having my baby. To realise my birth culture and language is lost to me and I can’t pass it on to him… To realise that matters – even despite the joy. To live in that complexity where joy can coexist with grief and loss.*
Of course – I don’t want to put that on him. He has no responsibility other than being my baby doing babyish things and hopefully drawing as much joy out of life as a baby can inhale. And yet – he is everything.
(*I already knew what I’d gained – prevailing adoption narratives always focus more on gain than loss. I can be happy and adopted and have suffered deep loss all at the same time. That’s adoption complexity for you.)
Fourthly: After so many other “Not like the other” categories, Working Mother has to be the most stark. I genuinely never knew that the battle lines of Motherhood were so entrenched. And none more than Stay At Home Mother vs Working Mother. I never wanted to be caught up in these battles, any more than I wanted to define myself by Crunchy Mom vs Gina Ford Mom, or Breastfeeding Mum vs Fed is Best Mum – and yet, if there’s one thing mothers seem to like doing, it’s defining themselves as a Mum Type. (I’m Haphazard, Intuitive Mum… completely disorganised and completely in love. That’s all really.) I realise in so many spaces I don’t really fit in. And the (relative) loss of my antenatal buddies – who fell by the wayside as soon as I went back to work – felt like a rejection of the old school kind. (And that’s not even to get into the whiteness of motherhood… and how that makes a transracial adoptee feel. A complex subject for another day!)
And yet, I think we’ve settled into our own niche. I’ve found mum friends – some of whom will probably last and some of whom probably won’t. Quite honestly, it’s hard to cultivate friendships when you work full time and other mums seem to have endless pools of time to do Mum things and they use their weekends to catch up with their husbands… My baby is at nursery during the week and so even if I’m working from home, I can’t really meet mum friends, because why would I want to go and spend time with someone else’s baby when mine is in daycare? Like I said, it’s a strange hinterland and we find our own way.
I have made some Mum buddies whose kids go to our nursery – their kids are a bit older, because I had to go back to work so soon. But it’s good because we have more in common. (I’m the terrible one feeding my child Ella’s Kitchen premade pouches instead of developing a varied baby menu and posting pictures of tot cuisine to our whatsapp groups. Our working mums group is a safe space for all of us who’ve ended up rushing across town all sweaty to grab our babies at the last possible minute. No Lingo Tots or prosecco in the play park for us!)
The thing is, I wish I could join those other mums. I’d love to be a stay at home mum, for even a time, and I find myself wondering whether it’s possible to have it all, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t – something has got to give. For working mums, it’s missing out on all the mundane stuff that our SAHM friends take for granted. The idea I might not see my child’s first steps.
Which brings me to: The Dilemma.
I’m doing not too badly in my job. Weirdly… It always makes me a little nervous when things are going well because I’m primed to feel like something is bound to go wrong. But I’ve managed to develop a great working relationship with my boss (the one I wasn’t happy that my old boss – who I love in a work platonic way – put in place). We seem to be quite symbiotic and complementary and work well as a team. And I am lucky that what I’m doing right now means I have the flexibility to work from home a fair amount and to continue breastfeeding/ pumping. (11 months next week. How did that happen?!) It’s important to me that I am able to do that. And coincidentally, I also get paid more than I ever did before, and my working hours are more reasonable. I honestly don’t know how that happened. I like to think it’s my karmic reward for putting up with so much **** in my old job!
Let’s not beat around the bush – I’m the main breadwinner. By a lot. I get paid almost double what T gets paid. We were lucky enough to have an offer accepted on our dream flat this year and it’s my salary that enabled us to get the mortgage (plus a fair bit of help from my parents with the deposit). So I need to work to continue to provide for our family. T is an awesome partner as he’s much more organised than I am and he figures out everything we need to do domestically. I just have one job – to earn the money. (Well, and to feed B!) Doing what I do helps keep us afloat. And getting promoted, earning more and doing well would help us reach our sweet spot (pay off debts and mortgage) sooner.
Our company is having a leadership summit in January, and I received an invitation. It’s a long way away – a transatlantic flight away. It goes on for four days plus travel. And only approved people get invited.
I got an invitation. It’s a big deal.
I asked my big boss if there was a mistake. (Surely not me!) My manager wasn’t sure either… She said our big boss had to approve all names so I must have been invited, but maybe not.
I emailed him to check there hadn’t been an error.
He called me. No error. I’m invited. “As a member of the leadership team.” Of course! (I’m like the most junior person in the team. They’re all one or two grades above me, or in his case, four!)
And when is this conference? Smack bang over my baby’s very first birthday.
He told me, You don’t have to come. Let me know and if you don’t want to, I’ll give your space to Andy. (Andy is another relatively junior member of the team. Hopefully not as well regarded as me.)
All the global leadership will be there… It’ll be a great networking opportunity. All expenses paid.
And… It’s my baby’s first birthday.
T says, He won’t know. We can move it a couple of days and celebrate then. I say, But I’ll know. I’d be on the other side of the world when my baby turns one.
My manager has asked me to work on a big piece of work over that time anyway, so the decision may yet be taken out of my hands, but the summit probably takes priority – if I want to go.
Every few minutes I change my mind about what is an obvious decision. And it comes back to my multiple identities and how the “obvious” answer changes according to which identity I’m cloaking myself in at the time. I am a mother. I am a working mother. I’m an adoptee whose baby is the most important person in the world to me. I am a mother after loss who realises how precious those small mundane things are. I am a transnational, transracial adoptee who finally made a family. I’m someone who was cut off from her roots who invests a huge amount emotionally in birthdays because they are the only link to my past.
I am all those things and I am my baby’s mother and I am a great worker and I want to do well so I can provide for him and make him safe, keep a roof over his head, keep him happy.
But he is not me. B is not me. He is himself, and he’s wonderful and joyous and giggly and amazing and cute. He doesn’t need to be anything for me, but I need to be everything for him.
How do we ever resolve our multiple identities? How do we decide what is best?
I don’t know if we ever can, but I’m going to have to try…
…sometimes I can’t find the words. And Facebook is such an instant kind of interaction whereas blogging has some sort of responsibility associated with it, to have a subject or theme rather than just stream of consciousness rambling… (although anyone who’s followed my blog for a while will be used to that!).
I guess it’s a bit hard to think of pithy subjects for blog posts when there’s such a lot going on in the world. And I have a lot of other outlets for discussing that, and others have done it far more justice than I ever could, so I’ll just say I’m saddened and kind of scared with what’s going on right now. It makes me wonder if one day in future we will look back on these days and think they were peace time. I hope that isn’t the case.
We all have a responsibility to speak out. As a transracial adoptee I feel my “foreignness” more than most people, and I’m astounded and saddened by what is happening in America now.
B turned seven months old! I can’t believe my baby is over half a year old. It’s gone by so quickly. I’m sure this happens to every parent but I feel like this time I’m sort of at peak love with him. Although probably next month I’ll think I love him even more. He’s at a great age now where he gives a fair amount of feedback, smiling and giggling, and he’s almost confident at sitting up (only falling over occasionally and slowly) and trying to crawl (but only succeeding in moving backwards, generally under the sofa). He’s tried food but doesn’t like it much. Which means: We’ve now reached seven months of breastfeeding!
One of my biggest surprises about this entire journey is how much I’ve enjoyed breastfeeding. I started out thinking I’d probably end up doing formula, because my body manages to cock up everything else, but for some reason I seem to be made to nurse my baby.
It’s an amazing feeling to think that my milk has nourished him to seven months. And he’s really pretty healthy. He’s quite big for his age – we know other babies who are a few months older and he doesn’t look significantly smaller. And aside from the occasional snotty nose and nursery bug, he’s been really well.
Also as an adoptee who wasn’t breastfed, I feel that it’s a very healing thing to be able to nurse my own biological baby. That’s not to say I wish I’d been breastfed. I really find that difficult as a concept from an adoption standpoint. We have had many discussions about it in adoption groups – suffice to say that pretty much all the adoptees were against it and all the people supporting it were adoptive parents. It’s a very emotive subject for adoptees and led to me deciding to leave my local LLL group. (I really support breastfeeding but adoptive breastfeeding is something else. I understand different people have different views and I can only speak for mine as an adult transracial adoptee, that it is deeply taboo in our community.) It’s a shame as we have had such a good breastfeeding experience and I was thinking of becoming a peer supporter. But still – we are still enjoying it and will probably end up doing the extended breastfeeding unless he decides to wean himself earlier! I’m not particularly worried as I guess most 15 year olds aren’t into it!
We are starting to wean B, but we are a bit lacksadaisical about it. We wanted to do baby led weaning, but he really isn’t very interested in food, so we’ve ended up doing some mush as well. I have to say I’m grossed out by mush. Especially banana. I hate bananas but it turns out babies love them. B doesn’t seem averse although he never voluntarily goes for food. He’ll eat mush offered to him on a spoon but stuff in his hand he just waves around. Apart from the baby chocolate biscuit. He’s clearly a man after my own heart.
We decided to hold a naming ceremony. I guess really we would have had a christening but neither of us is religious and so it felt like it would be a bit hypocritical. We wanted to mark B’s entrance to the world somehow… I guess it’s a natural inclination to want some sort of significance to it. Anyway I was going to do it myself and then thought about it and how I’d probably turn to mush and start crying, so I found a humanist celebrant who’s going to do it. Quite excited as we’ve been to humanist weddings in the past and they are really nice and personal. Anyway will have to write more about that on another post!
We are finally completing on our new house! Wow, it’s been an insanely long wait. We first made an offer that was accepted back in April. It’s been a bit frustrating – like what are they actually doing? – but feels amazing to think we will get our dream home this week! I actually feel a little sad for our lovely tiny current flat, but we are keeping it and hope to rent it out. I would love for us to keep it for B so he has some security for when he’s older, but we shall see. The new place isn’t actually a house but another flat very nearby – it’s just that it has a terrace so we will have some outside space, and it has two bedrooms so B can have one of his own! And a slightly bigger living room so he can actually learn to crawl! So exciting. It’s funny when I see people’s homes outside London and they are massive! We have low expectations for space here! I absolutely love London though and can’t really see us moving until much much later. Maybe when we retire to Disney World!
We have booked B’s first Disney trip! Before I was pregnant we went to Disneyland Paris each year during the Christmas season, and last year was the first time we missed it as I was heavily pregnant at Christmas. We decided because we both have our “big” birthdays this year (don’t mention it!) and it’ll be B’s first Christmas that we would go all out. We always go past the Disneyland hotel and sometimes even pop in for a drink or dinner. Well we have booked a posh room there with a park view! So excited. Now to find some good outfits for B…!
Stuff is actually going okay at work. The funny thing is, I made a decision to try and get on with The Woman (my new manager) and actually we’ve been getting on really well. She went on holiday and left me in charge of a piece of work and I caned it (up till 3am one night finishing it!) so I think she appreciated that I was pretty good even though I’m working from home most of the time. So although it’s hard work, I do tend to enjoy working hard periodically. I like that I have other days when I have hardly anything! Anyway it’s sort of nice to be able to take pride in my work!
My sister had her baby! I now have another niece. She was absolutely tiny weeny (a bit over 6lbs) and she’s super skinny… I don’t think B was ever that tiny! She ended up having a really similar experience to mine – ending in an unplanned caesarean. On the flip side she doesn’t really seem super happy about it – I think it has all gotten on top of her. I may have mentioned before she is quite highly strung… So I think the whole thing has traumatised her. I’m hoping that it’s going to pass and she won’t end up having postnatal depression – although I can see it happening. Luckily baby is fine and hopefully with a period of adjustment my sister will get into the swing of things.
I was finally a bridesmaid! They do say, “Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride!” So I kind of thought seeing as I’ve been a bride, maybe never a bridesmaid. Anyway it was such a fun day. Our bridesmaid crew was just the three of us and it was a great experience. I mean really all you have to do is turn up and have your hair and makeup done and wear a dress. It was kind of great. I even managed to nurse in the bridesmaid dress although it was a bit of a “wap ’em out” situation. Also I almost gave people an eyeful during the ceilidh dancing when the boob tube part of the dress came fully down! Fortunately I had some fabric over my boobs but there is no time during Strip the Willow (energetic Scottish country dancing, lots of spinning) to correct it. Ha! It was wonderful to see my friend so happy and to get married to the perfect guy for her. (I take full credit for persuading her to do internet dating!)
I think that’s about up to date with the news. Oh aside from the fact that I woke up today with what feels like horrendous whiplash. How did that happen?! Who knows. I’ve barely been able to move my head all day. I’m in agony. I’ve been taking painkillers in between pumping and feeding (as B is at nursery I have a safe-ish gap) but I am in massive pain. I don’t know how to do make it go away. I have a feeling it’s from side sleeping (co sleeping and feeding during the night) as I tend to get a sore back, but usually that’s manageable lower back pain rather than crippling under neck pain. I had a sports massage which helped a bit but ow!
I guess there was too much good news so I had to have a bit of pain mixed in!
I was looking at old photos of myself on Timehop (God bless Timehop, the regurgitator of past lives!) and realised that I was really skinny. This was something of a surprise to me as I spent a good proportion of my life and most of my adult life feeling fat.
It's like a lot of my old life is something of a shock to me now. I remembered with a jolt the other day that I didn't wear trousers for five years because my ex told me my legs looked a bit like sausages in them. Five years! When did I allow someone else to have such agency over my body?
Even before I met my ex, I think I had some pretty disordered eating. Not quite anorexia – I never really was one for seeing things through – but I did maintain a pretty low body weight that is significantly lower than I am now. (For context: I am around 5'2", and I used to be a UK size 8-10, and now I'm about a UK size 12. Generally not considered "overweight".)
I'm not sure when my disordered eating and strange body image first started. A lot of people (especially girls) start this around puberty, and perhaps that's what happened for me. I think it's a bit deeper than that, though. I was adopted as a baby, transracially, and I grew up around white people so all my life I've looked different from most of the people I was around growing up.
When I went to a predominantly white school, all of this got amplified. I remember that it was a shock because I slowly realised that I was "less than" because of my race. I realised that I was supposed to be blonde haired and blue eyed and I was about as far from that as possible. I started to find myself ugly (and people started to tell me I was ugly to my face). I never had the skinny white girl legs. Mine were muscular and I was just a different build. Really average for my race, as it turns out. But you don't know that as a child if you grow up with people who don't look like you.
Adoption is complex, and I don't know how much of this was tied up in adoption, but I do know I can't separate out being a different race from my overall experience of growing up. My feeling of not fitting in, even though that was all I knew. Anyway, I got kind of chubby. Although looking back, I wasn't chubby. I don't think I was ever actually chubby – I was just short, and not lanky.
Then one time when I was around 16, I went away on a holiday (to learn a language) and when I was there I got pretty sick and I couldn't really eat anything. And I dropped a load of weight. When I got back, suddenly everyone said how amazing I looked because I was skinny. I was suddenly approved of, and I liked it. So I maintained it.
I maintained it for a really long time. The thing is, I'm not naturally meant to be that weight. (It's about 20-30kg lighter than I am now. I don't know exactly how much as I don't know how much I weigh now.) So I got by on some disordered eating that kept me at my magic weight. My magic weight crept up over time… I kept in a 5kg weight range through school, and then it kind of crept up during my time at university, until it was +10kg, and then it was about +15kg in my last few years with IVF and everything. And even +20kg post miscarriage.
For me, I always thought I was "happy" when I was a lower weight. But when I look back, I was always kind of unhappy. I was happy that I'd managed to keep my weight down but I always felt a kind of anxiety about it. I used to weigh myself every day. The number on the scales made me feel like I was achieving something or I was failing something.
When I met T, after I'd split up with my ex – I had to adjust to a new way of being. I was always very controlled with my ex. He wouldn't think he was, but he controlled a lot about me. He had a huge effect on my feelings of self worth (or not). This was someone who had always dated very skinny women and even told me I was the fattest person he'd ever been with. It made me feel pretty bad about myself that I was that. The whole thing with my ex was that I never felt good enough. With T, I felt good enough. He really didn't care about weight. I actually met him when I was still pretty skinny and I piled on the relationship pounds… I let myself go.
I'm still conflicted about how I feel about it, because I recognise that my magic weight wasn't magic at all, but a strange idea of how I was supposed to look. And T tells me he loves me the way I am. But it was hard in the beginning putting on pregnancy weight – not just because of the weight itself, but the fear that it might be for nothing, like our first IVF and pregnancy was.
This pregnancy that gave me B also gave me a lot of weight. Firstly I had to take IVF drugs which make you put on weight. And also I had to take steroids which make you put on weight also. I got to halfway through pregnancy in a state of fear that it wouldn't work out, but then when I got halfway I decided I was going to try my best not to fear it any more.
I also decided to stop weighing myself. I have weighed myself every day, sometimes multiple times a day, since I was a teenager. I even recorded my weight every day in an app so I could see how much weight I put on. It's a bit crazy obsessive.
When I was properly pregnant, I gave myself permission to stop weighing myself. And I let myself relax into the pregnancy.
And you know what?
The strange thing is, I have no doubt I'm at least magic weight +20kg. Possibly +30kg. And I definitely have my moments of feeling a bit concerned about it (especially if I catch a glimpse of myself coming out of the shower – stretch marks and overhang and pendulous mammaries hanging out) but I generally feel absolutely awesome.
I don't know how it works for other people but for me – my body was always this thing that failed me. I wasn't the same as my white friends. I looked different. I was ultimately not enough – I wasn't enough for my birth mother to keep me; I wasn't enough for my ex to love me how I needed to be loved; I wasn't thin enough or attractive enough or whatever.
But having B was like all vanity went out of the window. I love myself now, because I know I'm just the same as anyone else – I'm fallible and imperfect, but my messed up body gave me B and I love myself for that.
I love my ridiculous humungaboobs that feed B like a dream… when his dad "flies" him over to me for a feed, he giggles and opens his mouth to latch on. They may be saggy and baggy but they do exactly what they need to do to feed my baby, and I'm proud I've been able to do that and even to pump for him so he's been exclusively breastfed for his entire life, for half a year.
I love my saggy stomach. (This one requires a bit more imagination!) I love that it carried B safely (even though he needed cutting out at the last minute!). I love that I got to experience being gloriously, amazingly pregnant. I once had a big bump that I never thought I'd get to have, and I grew a human in there, and if it looks like a fleshy deflated balloon well – so be it. My bikini days are over anyway and I have an awesome very flattering swimsuit with tummy panels!
I love my fuller face. (Again this is a hard one!) I love that it's the face that my son loves. His eyes light up when he sees me. He giggles and reaches his arms out. We even had to hide the cushion with my face on because he kept staring at it! Yes, I don't have the cheekbones I used to have but they'll come back one day. Or maybe they won't. But I refuse to hate my face because it looks a little bit like my boy's and I love his.
Anyone who sees me now probably thinks I've "let myself go". And I really have.
I've given myself permission to breathe out. (You kind of have to if you had a caesarean, just saying.)
I've given myself permission to not care. I don't have to listen to the whispering voices of bullies from the past, who said I was fat and ugly. I'm not fat and ugly. I am the size I needed to be to carry my baby into existence. I'm the face of my ancestors, who I'm finally beginning to connect with through adoption forums and same race groups, and I refuse to be ashamed of my non-whiteness because I don't ever want to see that shame in my son's face.
Of course I don't advocate being unhealthy. (Well, chocolate notwithstanding.) The thing is, I'm a size bigger than I was pre-pregnancy. But there's a freedom in letting myself have this. I have told myself I won't diet until I finish breastfeeding. Right now, I don't know when that will be. I want to do at least a year. In fact I'm enjoying it so much (never thought I'd say that!) that I joke I'll do it till he's 15… although I think he might decide to wean himself before then! (We have started baby led weaning but B is not interested in the least… It's a messy business!)
I will start exercising again when I have the time, for sure. But it will be just for myself. I miss the enjoyment I used to get from exercise, a bit, but then we are pretty active as we walk almost everywhere and we have Dog, and he gets us out and about. Plus I do swimming with B once a week, if bobbing around in the shallow end counts. (Yes it does!)
The important thing is that I want B to have a healthy self esteem and be happy. And a huge part of that is having happy healthy parents. I don't want him to see his mother dieting or hating the body that he changed by coming into existence. I don't want him to hate half of his race that came from me. We've taken steps… He's in a diverse nursery in the diverse area we live in. So he will never have the experience of feeling the odd one out, like I did.
And his parents are currently happy together and don't argue that much! (And when they do, it's his mama's fault… Hopefully the hormones will have died down a bit by the time he's more aware!) We are hopefully moving to our new place soon, so he'll even have a bit of outside space. And he has an awesome Dog for a buddy, and a load of new buddies at nursery… Life is good… and we are going to focus on the good things we are grateful for, rather than the bad things we wish we didn't have.
Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know we are massive Disney fans. We have booked to bring B to Disneyland Paris this year, because even though he won't remember it, it's our happy place (and we will save Orlando and the transatlantic flight for when he's older!). We have been every year apart from last year (heavily pregnant) as a couple and now we're going back as a family.
And of course, one of the best Disney songs ever is from Frozen: Let it Go. I don't tell that many people this, but I can barely ever listen to that song without wanting to cry. It's the perfect song that sums up so much of how I feel. (Which is strangely embarrassing given I'm an almost-40 year old definitely not Scandinavian most likely not a princess archetypally buttoned up British-by-adoption person.)
Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!
So here's the thing… I never was perfect. But I was trying to be, and it was exhausting.
And I never realised that all this time I needed to find acceptance. Not from other people, but from myself.
Or: Lost and found
I didn’t go searching for the past. I was dreaming of future things: of our new house and the child that might one day play in it – when I found my birth certificate. Or to be more precise: an ancient, fragile document comprised of thin pages covered in writing that I can’t understand. Plus an English translation of certified provenance. Certificates of adoption into my now native country. Official looking seals. Records of identity, and photos of a baby that looks a bit like me.
It’s never been hidden from me that I was adopted as a baby, from a country far away from the one I now live in. This document is the link to who I was back then, before I became British (“more British than the British”) – before my parents became my parents and long before I ever came to live in England and become fully assimilated into the middle classes and later, the hustle and bustle of London life.
It seemed somehow serendipitous that I should come across them that day, as for some reason (infertility, a new IVF cycle, the moon?) I’ve been thinking a lot about adoption and the fact of having been adopted. It seemed like a sign from the universe, if I believed in such things. (I don’t.)
The only reason I was going through boxes is that we’re in the process of buying a house. The London housing market is such that anything we can afford to buy is approximately half the size of the place we now rent, which means some downsizing and rationalising of the immense amount of clutter we’ve managed to accumulate. T has been strict about me doing a bit of sorting every night, and I’ve been roused from my customary placement on the sofa to dig through piles of old stuff that we never unpacked from the old house.
And there it was: an old folder bursting with documents of Me. All that information laid out there, so tantalisingly close and yet so far from my comprehension – characters on a page in a language I can’t understand.
And yet… I could pick some words out. I could match it up from the translation of my name, because I know what my name is in my birth language. (My parents gave me the fusion name: a name in my birth language and in English, a name I now realise my first mother must have known when she signed away her rights.)
I can see her name. I’ve never looked for it before. I don’t know why. I look at the dates of birth and I realise she was 20 when she had me. A baby herself. I look at her birthdate and wonder why I never thought what it was before. I work out how old she would be now. Not much older than my ex; quite a lot younger than my parents. I calculate that she’s exactly the same amount younger than my dad as I was from my ex. A strange thought.
Little things. I see this on the translation next to her name and somehow it seems poignant.
I misunderstand it at first, thinking that she just appeared to give consent, suggesting that maybe she was ambivalent. Then I read it again, and I think that I have the emphasis wrong, that it is merely a statement of fact that she turned up and I wasn’t signed away in absentia. I look at it again and I’m not sure. Somewhere, back in the mists of time, my first mother held the certificate that this translates. Maybe for longer than she held me. I don’t know; she had me for a few days after my birth and I don’t know how much of that time I was with her.
I snap a picture on my phone and I look up the English translation on the translated document. Later, at work, I contact the first person I can think of who speaks my birth language and I ask her if she’d be willing to look at something written down and tell me what it means, and type it for me. My untrained eye can’t translate it into type for future internet searches, but she can. She tells me to send the picture and instantly she’s able to tell me my mother’s name. It’s similar but not quite the same as the translation says – she has a name that I can type now and I google it idly for the rest of the afternoon, but nothing comes up.
I thank my coworker and tell her it’s my birth mother’s name. She sends me a smiley emoji.
You can’t move forwards without looking back.
I’ve never tried to look at these documents before, which seems ludicrous at the age of 30-something (late thirties!) – I always knew I wouldn’t be able to understand them because I don’t speak that language. It wouldn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know: that I was born, and I had at least one parent, and then I had two more and I lost the first. Maybe I was in denial, or I didn’t want to look, or it just didn’t seem relevant. In recentish history I’ve had the chance to look at these things and the chance to visit my birth country, but I never took it and I don’t know why.
So much of my adoptee narrative was given to me and I never questioned it. I’ve questioned everything else in life – religion being a big one (I told my religious mother that I was an atheist at a very young age, and I’ve tried every branch of Christianity just to see if I could possibly start believing – I really like it, but I just can’t believe it). I’ve questioned my superiors. I’m totally one of those annoying people who always wants to know Why?
Why did I never question my story? Why have I never tried to find out more than that? I think I just so internalised the narrative… that I was transplanted from poverty, that my first mother wanted to give me up, that she had a very common name, that she was young and marginalised and it would be really difficult to find her. My parents always said they would help if I wanted to. I never wanted to. I’m not the type who ever wants to set myself up for a fall.
My birth country is pretty advanced in terms of adoptee rights. It’s the language barrier which gets massively in the way. I can’t even search for my first mother’s name because I couldn’t read what the results showed. Even if I could find something online, I’m unversed in the language of the country of my birth. Without language, I’m mute. I’m a foreigner here, sitting on a computer which in my imagination is a giant tin can with string that stretches all the way around the world and there, somewhere on the other side is my birth family. Are they huddling around the other tin can? Are they off living their lives, playing out in the distance?
They even have a standardised adoption search form. I’ve looked at it. I could kick off the search right now, with what I have – all they need is a birth certificate, proof of my identity and a signed consent form. Those old certificates are sitting there in their folder, and all it would take would be for me to scan them in, send them through cyberspace and whoosh, the people at the other end (the nice officials with their much more advanced attitude towards opening up closed adoptions) would do their stuff. I don’t even have to pay anything. My birth country sees it as a service they should provide to grown up adoptees. It catches me a little bit, in my heart, that they have a whole website devoted to reaching the people like me who are foreigners in their birth country. They want to welcome us back. They want to help me search.
Why have I never done it? I’ve never really looked back.
It is said if there’s one thing that’s sure in life, it’s that you can’t move forward without acknowledging the past.
My past is locked up in an old wooden chest. My parents, my “real parents”, the only parents I’ve ever consciously known put this chest together for me. It’s old and the lock’s broken and some of the feet fell off. For my entire childhood that chest has been a part of my life. It used to sit at the end of my bed and my other adopted sibling had one too – it marked us as special, as the bio kids didn’t have one. All our old things were in there, and sometimes we’d hide toys in there, but really what it was meant to be was a place to store our past.
I’ve never really paid much attention to it. The chest, like my past, is just a part of me – a fact; an adjective. No big deal in my everyday life. But I finally got around to clearing out some stuff, because to move forward I have to do that. I have to touch the past. In collecting my stuff from storage and in sorting through that and trying to get a new mortgage and start my new life, I inadvertently stumble upon the past.
Without even opening it, I know that in the chest is a baby outfit. It’s not a western style outfit. It’s from my country of birth. There’s a blanket. Some booties. My first favourite book, and my second and third. (I’ve always been a voracious reader since the age of 2 when I apparently figured it out.) As a child I never really thought of the significance of these first things. My first photo album full of photos, my parents bedecked in 70s sepia with me, a little foreign baby. I look like a changeling. I always thought stories about changelings were about me. Those words again: The person involved personally appeared to performed the right of consent. Those words I can’t read: somewhere on that page of foreign writing is the writing of my first mother, signing away her motherhood of me.
As an adult, and as an adoptee, a label I’ve always been resistant to claim (not because I ever dispute the fact that I was adopted or am ashamed of it, but because it reminds me of amputee, and suggests I’m not whole, that I’m just an object, an -ee for someone else’s agency), I look at these things anew. I’m not so inured any more to the everyday-ness of the past, of my papers. I’m older now and I’m possibly the end of my line, so maybe I should look at it because there might not be any more. (On family trees: I’ve always thought of myself more of a spliced branch onto my parents’ family tree – I never quite got why adoptees would get so upset about “the family tree project” – I have a tree; it’s just that mine bears different fruit… Or possibly no fruit.)
Now things are new, and modern, and instant. In the age of social media and omniscience delivered via warp speed fibre networks, adoptees are rising up in their hundreds and demanding information. What was once “very difficult to find” is now instantly searchable, crowdsourced, blogged, viral. Some of their quest I can’t relate to; I can’t picture myself as one of those adoptees in a photo, holding up a sign asking strangers to tell them where their biological relatives are. Those people so earnest in their vulnerability. That isn’t me.
But… I can hold my birth certificate in my hands. The original documents, the ones that other adoptees fight to attain. (OBCs or Original Birth Certificates are sealed in many US states, and adoptees are banned from ever finding out the kind of information that sits innocuously in my wooden chest, that was a prop of my childhood games… Even worse, some adoptees in the USA don’t even have citizenship rights for the only home they’ve ever known, which is a travesty.) It strikes me that this information that I’ve casually had to hand for most of my life and has never been hard fought for is something I’ve never romanticised or idolised. It’s just there. And in being just there, I’ve almost ignored it.
And yet… It’s now here, in my immediate possession, not an abstract file somewhere that’s sealed by the state. I have the very papers that my first mother touched, that she put her signature to, on which her name and birthdate and other identifying details reside.
If I could read my birth language, I could look for her. I could look for my first father. In my head, I have at least one biological brother who’s impossibly cool and would teach me that men of my ethnicity can be cool, too, rather than exotic beings I’ve never known. In my head, at least my sibling is on Facebook and we could exchange stories and figure out where to go from here.
Many adoptees are now doing 23andme, and other DNA testing. I’ve even seen posts on adoption forums where people urge adoptive parents to get their children tested when they’re still young, so they can get “answers” and “identity”. I guess my take on it is that I’ve never felt that my identity was purely DNA or biological, and that whilst it’s incontrovertible fact that I don’t look like the majority of people in my country, and I have my own idiosyncrasies (a tendency to wear black, an evil stare… But also an enthusiasm for animal cartoons and kawaii cuteness that may bely my biology), the me-ness of me is more than genes.
I worry that it might open up more information than I need, more questions than can be answered. If I did it – if I swabbed my cheek and found a distant cousin – or even a sibling, or parent – what would that mean? What would it mean if I found nothing? If it just confirmed my status as a genetic island?
I think all of this, the idea that information is out there and maybe I could find it, is wrapped up in a fear of raising my expectations in a way that wouldn’t be positive. I remind myself that I’m happy. I question the idea that all adoptees need to search for self (the prevailing paradigm being that somehow self and identity is tied up in finding one’s genetic roots – something to wrap your head around when you were brought up as the last of the “colourblind, assimilated” cohort of adoptees, where success is predicated not on remaining in touch with one’s birth culture but in assimilating as far as possible into the adoptive one).
I don’t feel like I’m missing out by not knowing. I know many adoptees do, but so much of my story is of everything that happened since. It’s hard to miss what you never had, and it’s hard to yearn for another life when the life you have is good, and nice, and full. And if you always managed down your expectations, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t try and get their hopes up, and if you’re so used to being different that Other is a core part of your identity, then to search is to turn that paradigm on its head.
For me the only clear fact in all this is that I have this information… Information that I never lost, and information that I was never conscious of having. I didn’t have to dig for it, save for sorting through stuff to take to the new house, to the new life.
My birth certificate, my other-language identity, is in my hands.
I have been thinking lately about what it’s like to be infertile / pursuing IVF / post miscarriage.
I realised that’s how it feels. I feel Other.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve had a whole lifetime of getting used to being Other. I was born overseas and I was adopted a few days after birth by my white British parents. Unlike some adoptees (note: I dislike the word but for the purposes of this blog I use it for brevity rather than “people who were adopted”), my parents actually lived in the country of my birth and even spoke some of my “native” language. (I say native as I was preverbal when I lived there so my native language is English.) I realised over the weekend when I was randomly thinking about it that my white British parents actually lived longer in my country of birth than I ever did. Strange.
Growing up with non-white features it was ingrained in me from the start that I was Other. (Okay, possibly not the start, but pretty much smacked me in the face when I moved to England.) The predominant beauty standards are white and you probably have no idea how internalised that beauty standard is. For example, it’s taken me until recent years, my late 30s, to understand that people of my race can actually be attractive. And for me – I used to hate how I looked so much, that I would stare for hours in the mirror at myself and wish that my eyes and nose and hair and skin were different, and I could just be “normal” (blonde, blue eyed). Even though there are probably more people who look like me in the world than not. Fast forward to adolescence and females of my race are fetishised as exotic and ascribed a level of ability with the opposite sex that has simultaneously served me well, as well as slightly repulsed me.
It’s kind of tricky growing up different. Of course I had a sibling, also adopted from the same country, who was supposed to make me feel less alone. Our parents wanted us to have that kind of buddy and racial mirroring, I guess. (They came from the era where “colourblindness” was the prevailing attitude, pretending you can’t see race, which is really quite confusing to transracially adopted kids. They didn’t know any better – I don’t blame them, but it really is confusing when people tell you they can’t see a problem when there is clearly a problem.)
It’s been a love-hate relationship between my adopted sibling and me all our lives. At times it’s felt like a reminder of my own failings, a mirror to my Otherness. At times it’s felt like I had an ally and at times it’s felt like we were both as clueless as each other. We don’t know how to be [our race], other than in looks. We had very few racial mirrors growing up (as they now talk of as important on transracial adoption forums). I hate to admit it, but I was kind of scared of people of my own race… they seemed so foreign… and if I really admit it, I probably still do. I’m insanely jealous of [ethnic minority] colleagues who have loads of [their race] friends. Like, I like white people; I really do – I live with one, and my family’s mainly white – but it would be nice once in a while to not be the token ethnic.
Infertility and transracial adoption is a strange and ironic kind of intersectionality where I kind of want to start singing Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic, aside from the fact that everyone knows it’s not really about irony. There’s a special sort of bad luck associated with that primal desire to have some sort of genetic connection to another being, which adopted and non-adopted alike seem to want more often than not, and the inability to have that even when your first genetic links were severed. It’s like lightning striking twice – no, you can’t have a genetic relation! Can you really lose both your first family and your potential family? That seems kind of double bad luck! You lose the ability to see your parents in yourself, and you lose the ability to see yourself in your kids. That is something basic, something primal, and something that pretty much everyone else takes for granted. It seems doubly unfair not to have both, no matter how “lucky” you are as an adoptee.
I can only speak for myself as an adoptee. Others have different stories… We aren’t some amorphous mass of adoptedness. A lot of the time when I read stuff on adoption forums and blogs, I feel like I can’t relate, and maybe that’s another layer of intersectionality – the treatment of ethnic minorities (UK term) / people of color (US term) in the UK (where I live) and the US (where most bloggers/forum posters seem to live). I think my experience growing up overseas in a primarily American expatriate environment followed by “assimilation” in the British environment in the UK gives me a specific perspective that probably differs from a lot of what I read online. I don’t at all dismiss those voices, and equally I think it’s good if we recognise we aren’t all the same – some dichotomy of angry or grateful (the adoptee tropes) – we are all different, all complex, all different shades.
My feelings about adoption have changed and developed, which is apparently common with adoptees. As a younger child and adult I really downplayed the idea that genetic links mattered and that there was any need to have a child related to me by blood… I kind of thought it didn’t matter, because it didn’t matter that my family wasn’t genetically related to me. (I always saw myself having children, though.) As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more “woke” (as they call it in adoption rights parlance) to the idea that adoption isn’t just as tickety-boo as it might seem (I’m not opposed to it but I think there are reasons I would hesitate about doing it, particularly in the UK where there is far less of a domestic adoption “market” as there is in the US/overseas, meaning that we don’t really have babies adopted to order and more likely involving traumatised children who have been involuntarily removed from their parents). I’ve also become more in tune with the idea that I’ve lost my genetic links and my cultural heritage and that that’s a loss rather than just a fact, and I would like if possible if my child could have that familiarity and genetic link to its parents.
I don’t know if I’m really explaining it very well… It’s just how I feel. Both my partner and I were adopted as babies; we both had largely positive experiences (though mine was negatively impacted by being a different race to the predominant one) and we both feel that our adoptive families are our families, and we feel secure and happy in our families. And yet – we both would like to have a child who is genetically ours. We haven’t fully explored what our choice would be if/when we decide to give up on the fertility treatments. I can’t say for sure what I would want, but I don’t think we would automatically move towards adoption (plus I think it’s insulting to think that just because we were adopted, we should “just adopt” – it’s really not that simple). Life without kids isn’t worthless, no matter what the media might portray. We enjoy our life right now with Dog and without children, so maybe we would just not have kids.
And here we are, putting ourselves (mainly me) through this gruelling and intrusive process, just to grasp that teeny tiny flicker of hope that it might work and we might become parents. I started down regulation just over a week ago and honestly, I feel pretty crappy.
First of all, it makes me feel like I have perma-PMS. I now have a big zit on my chin, which always makes me feel really self conscious (I had very bad acne as a teen which only healed when I went on the pill – bad skin just added to my intense hatred of my looks). I’ve also piled back on the weight which I don’t know whether to attribute to a bad month of eating (staycation, Easter, general PMS-like feelings from down regulation) or to the side effects of the Buserelin. Either way I’m back up to a high weight and I’d been doing really well losing 4-5kg, so it makes me feel awful and fat. Plus whatever’s in Buserelin (it dampens down your body’s natural cycle which is then kick started by stimulation meds in a couple of weeks) makes my boobs grow enormous.
The upside of this is that T really likes the bigger boobs; the downside is I hate them. They feel sore and I feel like they make me look fat. He says the drugs make me more moody too, which is probably not a surprise as they basically mimic PMS symptoms. Ugh. So I’m spotty, with greasy hair, humungaboobs and fat as well as moody. It’s basically the dream combo for making a baby! (Nevertheless we did have a bit of how’s your father over the weekend, because you may as well take advantage of having big boobs when the situation arises.) I’ve found myself feeling more emotional than normal, which is maybe a side effect of down regulation. (Or: I’m just a moody cow.) I feel more than ever that there are situations in which people (let’s call them breeders) act in a way that is massively triggering.
One such occasion happened last week when I was on the tube. The tube was delayed for ages due to some kind of mechanical problems which means it was way more crowded than usual. I was standing up for part of the way and was feeling kind of gross (as for some reason I’ve also been feeling a bit nauseous, probably due to the Buserelin or possibly that I keep stuffing myself). A guy holding a toddler obnoxiously asked people to move down inside the carriage (people do this and it’s very annoying because the carriage was already really crowded and people weren’t standing there just for fun). Someone in front of me vacated their seat and I went to take it, and then this guy holding the toddler kind of muscled in and said in a really loud voice “Could I have that seat please” – indicating the child as a reason. I duly gave up my seat.
This is probably a London etiquette thing but the basic hierarchy for seats is: disabled people, pregnant women, old people – then everyone else. There’s no place in the hierarchy for children, and in many cases, people will ask their children to stand up or sit on their laps if lots of people are standing. The other point is that children travel free. So by taking up a seat, a child is taking a seat from people who have paid, whilst they haven’t paid. Now, I always give up my seat to people who fall in the above categories. Believe it or not, I’m especially attuned to pregnant women because to see one is basically to be punched in the face with your infertility. They have these badges they wear saying Baby On Board which is depending on how you see it, either a smug way of saying they’re pregnant but more likely a British thing of asking for a seat without actually having to ask. If you see someone with a badge on, you need to offer them a seat. Everyone knows that. (Strangely it always seems to be me giving a seat, rather than a man.)
What bugged me and triggered me about this man was his sense of entitlement. Sure, it’s not fun standing on a crowded tube train with a toddler. But he was travelling in rush hour, which is when most people are getting to work (it seems unlikely he was, given his casual wear and the kid), and there were delays, meaning that most of the carriage was full of standing people. Like I said, it’s absolutely not the norm to give a seat because someone has a child (it was an able bodied, verbal child) and then it soon became apparent that this guy was there with his wife/partner, as he started speaking in a loud “Daddy” voice to the toddler about “Mummy” for the entire journey. I’m all for fathers being happy to be fathers but parents who shove parenthood into everyone else’s faces really p*** me off.
In fact the man sitting next to him immediately got up and offered me his seat, because he also seemed to grasp how ridiculous it was to be told to give up your seat for an able bodied man and child. (Note I didn’t say anything about feeling nauseous or ill or anything, because as a non-pregnant non-mother we are pretty much implied to be invisible and pointless… I don’t get a vote.) I appreciatively took the seat and then wham… a woman gets on with a Baby on Board badge, and nobody offers her a seat, so I jump up out of my seat and she waddles through the crowd and takes it. (I’m not mad at her, just mad at all the people closer to her who should have given up their seat – including the able bodied man and child… The guy just carried on yabbering to the child really loudly, as if he thought he didn’t have to give up his seat for a pregnant lady.)
Point was of this whole story is how a seemingly innocuous event can make you feel terrible. Maybe it’s the down regulation and the drugs that are making me feel bad. Maybe it’s my history of infertility and loss that makes me feel like I’m constantly reminded of how I’m a second class citizen because I don’t – can’t – have a child. Maybe it’s a lifetime of feeling Other. Or maybe it’s all three.
I got a seat eventually, when the obnoxious Daddy got off (not after giving the entire carriage a running commentary in baby voice about every single stupid aspect of the journey – basically being inconsiderate to everyone else, either because he thought his job as Daddy was so important or he just didn’t care). It’s such a stupid small thing, but the effects of that journey are still ongoing. I am still smarting from it a week later, still feeling inadequate and still feeling resentful. I even feel resentful that I’m resentful. Like, I shouldn’t even care what some dimwit does on the tube, but I do. It’s pretty much impossible to escape one’s childlessness and the constant reminders that we are lesser human beings because we haven’t managed to perform this basic human function.
And yet. There are good things happening too. (I promise you I’m not sitting around in a fug of childlessness… I’ve been childless my whole life so I’ve had time to get accustomed to the idea!) Hopefully our house is moving ahead, which is a good thing. I mean, it’s exciting to think we might have our own home. We even went to the Ideal Home Show at the weekend just to look around, as we got free tickets – it’s fun to play dream house although our new place is tiny and doesn’t have space for most stuff! T made me think of fun things like what would my ideal cooker be. (He’s great at cheering me up. It would be a big range cooker! Impractical for a small flat!) On Sunday we introduced Dog to our friends’ dog – they’d never met – and went for a long walk. They aren’t friends as such given the other dog is 4 times Dog’s size, but the other dog “gave” our Dog a cow’s ear (URGH) to chew on, which Dog’s almost beside himself with happiness about. (I, on the other hand, am disgusted.)
Work is much easier now I know I’m leaving! It’s quite gratifying when people are being annoying, to think that I don’t have to deal with them for much longer. My work friend left last week which was sad, as it means I don’t have her to chat to any more, but I did inherit her desk which is a total prime desk by the window in the corner (not overlooked – win!) which is fun to think of as it means I have it for the next couple of months whilst working my notice! Which is quite nice!
So actually I’m sort of happy about things. I’m just working through my feelings on here, and aside from the Buserelin Blues (which should be a song – boo-boo-be-doo) I am generally okay. I need to work on not getting worked up!
Next steps for IVF:
I have my first scan on 12 April. This means in a week’s time I could be starting stims and I also have some of the reproductive immunology stuff from Dr S to take. Maybe a week or two after that, egg collection. Quite exciting… although daunting to think of how many other steps there are after that. T and I were talking about it and thinking ahead to next steps if this doesn’t work. Like if we move, we might have to go to a different clinic for the next cycle. We might change eligibility so might not get another NHS cycle, which would mean going privately. It sounds negative but I find it easier to try and plan for contingencies and think that we have a plan if it doesn’t work out.
I am hopeful. It’s just that I’m slightly more realistic… slightly more bruised than I was in Cycle 1.
Today is my due date.
To celebrate, I’m going to work, just like any other day. I’m working on a new client and I can’t afford to miss it. This afternoon, when I’m supposed to be wondering if that was a contraction or something else, I’ll be delivering a client workshop. I’ll be trying to instil a level of confidence, demonstrate quality and innovative thought. In the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking of him.
My baby died months ago, before he or she ever got to be a baby. In the absence of getting that far, I thought of my baby as a boy. He was a little blob (with a heartbeat), and then he wasn’t. The odds weren’t good, after 15 years of never getting pregnant naturally, after years of operations and investigations, after a long wait on the NHS waiting lists, after finally agreeing funding, our first IVF cycle – BAM! – pregnant!
That’s how it’s supposed to work. All the IVF success stories, the parents who showed infertility who’s boss. We were supposed to be those people. And then we weren’t.
A gradual narrowing down of odds.
Slow responder… 12 eggs retrieved.
Of those 12… 6 fertilised.
Of those 6… 3 were still going on Day 3.
Of those 3… 1 was good enough to transfer.
No frosties. 1 day 5 embryo transfer.
At 2 weeks… A positive test! My first in 30-something years.
At 6 weeks… A heartbeat! A blob with a flicker.
At 7 weeks (a second scan “just to see more clearly”)… My flickering blob wasn’t growing.
At 8 weeks… He stopped flickering.
At 9 weeks… Scan at EGU (Emergency Gynaecology Unit, sensitively located next to Neonatals) showed baby had died.
At 10 weeks… Baby pre-empted the planned EPRC and miscarried “naturally”.
At 11 weeks…
I deleted all the pregnancy apps. Cancelled appointments. Stowed the positive pregnancy tests in my underwear drawer, where they still reside. (I can’t bring myself to throw out the only proof that I once was pregnant.) I put the baby book I’d bought in my desk drawer. (I never filled it in – I never felt confident enough.) Put the stretchy “might fit me as I grow” clothes back in the wardrobe. Went into hibernation.
I deleted all the pregnancy related dates from my calendar. I didn’t want to be reminded when week 20 would have been. There’s no trace of what once was, and yet even so, the due date lived on in my mind. A suckerpunch last weekend – a christening; baby celebrations. I persist.
I’m quite proud of my shrinking waist. I’ve lost 2.6kg since the beginning of my diet (Jan 4 – everyone knows diets start on Mondays). I’m getting there, and I’m slowly coming back to being me. I put on a bunch of weight through IVF and comfort eating and it made me feel terrible about myself. My reasoning was “if I’m not going to have a baby, I might as well enjoy myself”. The b**** at work (who’s fatly pregnant with her second, of course – life’s fair like that) asked me if I was pregnant back in summer. I wasn’t pregnant – I’d miscarried weeks before. I’m a size 10. It’s fatter than I want to be, but it’s smaller than average. (I’m a small person.) I wanted to punch her in the face. I still do.
T is there for me, and so is Dog. But neither of them really understand. To T, the baby was an abstract thought. He’s sad for both of us, but that sadness was back in summer when he never got to tell his parents they’d be grandparents. (I had told mine due to their requirement for all people in their presence to drink wine. Retraction of pregnancy announcements suck.) Dog of course is a massive comfort but I think he’s more bothered about where the next food is coming from than empathising with me about loss. (We’re the same, all three of us – taken from our first mothers at birth and raised in another family.)
And me… I came back to life following the miscarriage. I’m still my old self, the funny one, the weird one, but something inside me cracked and if I allow myself to think about it (not often; I drown out the noise with laughter and fun and distracting work and Disney), I know there is a wellspring of tears. I don’t want to start crying because I might never stop. Nobody wants a hysterical snotbag telling them how to improve their organisation. I’ll go and I’ll talk and I’ll sit there in my work clothes and try not to think about my other life that peeled away from this one back in July. The life where I only have a short time before meeting my baby and everything changes forever.
In this life, everything changed and yet everything’s still the same.
I never thought that this week would be so hard.
I’ve been a bit ranty and hormonal lately, and luckily (*sarcasm) for me, it’s because it’s my Time of the Month rather than because everyone in the world is being annoying. (Actually, I think it might be both.)
Oh yeah, I’m expecting my period next week. It was gonna be my baby, but y’know, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and that’s just nature’s way of telling you that baby wouldn’t have survived / had defects. I’m just going to have to try again, and it’s probably because I have a stressful job / didn’t try hard enough / didn’t lose weight / God decided it wasn’t my time to be a mother / maybe we should “just adopt” / I need to go on holiday and relax…
You know what? I hate being like this. Angry/sad. Sangry? It sounds corny but I have done a lot of work on myself lately, as the self help books call it. Several years ago, I came out of a very long term relationship with the guy I had naively assumed would be the father of my children. Infertility, and possibly the aftermath of adoption and never really resolving the grief of various things and my overwhelming insecurities really didn’t help. We both hurt each other and we still haven’t fixed it, but we are trying. (I want to draw a line, especially a financial line, but that’s proving difficult even though it’s getting to half a decade stage. Agh.) I think we both had huge reserves of grief that being together couldn’t find a way to fix.
I went a bit crazy with grief actually. After that, I spent time with some people who in hindsight did nothing for me (other than offering excitement and escapism, which I guess are valid things, for finite timescales). I dated unsuitable men. (Clue: He’s never going to leave.) I allowed myself to be seduced by a feeling I’d never had before: want. My want; their wants; feeling wanted. I grew up a bit. I learned how to be the aggressor, the dominant one, the wanter, instead of my long-held role as submissive, the pleaser, the subjugator of my self and desires. Including the desire to feel loved, cherished and attractive, and the desire to have children.
A child. One child.
A single child would be enough. I knew I didn’t have much time. (I also know I didn’t “waste” time. If I’d been working normally, which I wasn’t, judging by the ops, I would have had a baby with my ex.) When I met T, I had already learned the hard way what my wants were. How I behaved in a couple and the level of participation I wanted to have in a relationship. (100%, not too much to ask, eh?) I told him about how I was seeking commitment and a family. And he was adopted, like me, as a baby, so in some ways we had a common understanding. That desire for stability and a family. The desire to know someone biologically related or to look like your parents or your child. (Never underestimate that. I know if it ever happens to me, I think my mind will be blown.)
Do you understand kin? “Blood is thicker than water.” That’s what my mum used to say, thinking she was telling us that family mattered more. She never really thought that we didn’t share blood. That I’m no more related to my family than my friends. Than my dog! My dog is adopted too!
Kin is made of blood and marriage. Kith and kin. We are blood and water. Both give life. We need both, but they are not the same. I am not my family’s blood and I am not T’s blood. The only way I will ever meet a person who is my blood relative is if I track down my family overseas in a country whose language I don’t speak, family whose names I don’t know, who have been redacted from my history. Or if I give birth to my first known blood relative.
My last blood relative I never met (unless you count passing him/her painfully, clots of almost-baby, the blood of dreams denied). Each month my endometriosis and fibroid(s) and barren uterus conspire to remind me that I’m female, so I must suffer, and I’m infertile, so why not let me suffer some more? I don’t know how the religious infertiles do it. It must seem like a God with a pretty bad sense of humour who gives neglectful parents and paedophiles and murderers babies, and keeps perfectly nice people childless. As for purposely giving you suffering to “benefit” you somehow, or make you stronger, I know from experience that suffering does not automatically make you stronger or a nice person. I was probably more inclined to charitable thoughts and deeds and entry to a mystical cloud-home when I didn’t have a decade of infertility and loss under my belt.
And yet I have hope. I feel thankful (not grateful adoptee; grateful human) to have enough. I read on one infertility blog “God never gives us more than he thinks we can handle”. Well I’m telling you, God, up there divvying out the baby bingo cards for kicks (wtf?) – I can’t handle much more of this s***. I have a life to live, and I’m sure as damned not going to live in a state of loss and grief and want. You know what? Enough is enough.
I don’t know when enough will come, and I’m not really in the giving up hope mood right now because I’m stupidly dreamy at times and I believe in the magic of Disney and the happiness that comes from things that other people think are stupid.
Like friends coming through for you in unexpected ways. (When I was mugged and my kindle was stolen, they bought me a new, better one.)
Like a partner who loves me even when I’m fat and grumpy (“You’re always grumpy!” is his answer when I do my daily check on whether he still loves me, even though…), who dreams up silly ideas to celebrate Christmas, who taught me how to believe in magic and Disney again.
Like family who are bloody cray cray and yet madly in love with each and every one of us, who want the best for each other even if they can’t really figure out what that is or relate to each other’s struggles. Not consolation family, not “real family”, just family. I’m happy I have one even if they drive me crazy. I could have had none. I’m privileged enough even to complain about them. My parents are both still here.
So in this time of waiting, I try and channel my energy, grief and anger into action. Here’s what I’ve been doing. There’s no guarantee it would work for anyone else, and I don’t even thinking it’s “working”, but it is keeping me busy. This plan is what I call The Long Haul.
- Finding stuff out. The first time we did IVF, I put my trust in the doctors and the protocol. It worked, and then it didn’t. Losing my first pregnancy was traumatic to say the least. Just when I think I’ve forgotten it, along comes something to remind me. I’m not willing to go through that again with the same levels of trust and ignorance. So I researched – on blogs, through blogfriends, Google, books, etc. And I know what happened last time round so at least I can understand what to expect. I blogged my first IVF cycle so I can look back and see how I felt and what I took last time.
- Allowing myself to be triggered sometimes. It sounds weird to say this, but the British way is not to “wallow”, and largely I haven’t. I’ve gotten on with life, and I’m pretty much back to my old childless self. We have had a lot of fun – we enjoyed two trips to Disney last year, and had a fun Christmas. I really don’t think about it (infertility, loss, adoption) very often. But I do allow myself space to explore those feelings, mainly on here. Seeing messages of support and responses to things I’ve written from people who understand has been a life changer for me. If there’s anything this “journey” has shown me, it’s that I’m not alone. It sucks that so many people are hurting, for many reasons. Knowing I’m not alone, or some kind of freak in the fertile / not adopted / white / male world is a comfort.
- Making appointments. It made me feel like I was doing something. We had a second opinion at a private clinic (who suggested we go ahead with the NHS cycle) and a more detailed scan. I also have an appointment with a doctor who specialises in reproductive immunology next week. I think I just want to know that I’ve exhausted every avenue and there are no more reasons to check.
- Losing weight. I’ve been on a vague diet since January 4 (the first Monday of 2016!). So far at my lowest I am down 2.6kg, which is not too bad. (I go up and down during the week… Usually on a low by Friday or Saturday and then up again after the weekend!) It is a way of feeling I am doing something and also feeling a bit better about myself. I found IVF really made me feel terrible about my body, with the weight gain from the meds and the comfort eating after the miscarriage. I have put on a huge amount of weight over the past few years, although I was probably underweight previously. My aim is to lose 10-15kg this year. I think it can be done! Unless of course I get pregnant, in which case I’ll at least have a consolation of getting fat.
- Saving money. T and I are seriously on austerity measures. We realised we have to save for a deposit if we ever want a chance to buy our own place. (Complications with my ex who is financially dependent – we are hoping this will be resolved soon after many years!) We sat down and worked out a budget and savings plan. It’s a bit tough but it feels good in a way to have a plan and a way out of our rental accommodation.
- Taking a FB break. I could do a whole blog post on this! Maybe tomorrow. This is a very big deal for me, but because of this week (due date) I feel like it’s self preservation. This does mean that I can’t vent as much on there or idly browse silly videos or pictures of food, but at least it limits the triggering baby exposure.
- Being open to opportunities. Weirdly I went for two interviews lately! I’ve been working really hard at work. Some days I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and others are a kick in the teeth. I’m working on it. I don’t want my whole life to be about infertility. Who knows what might happen?
- Spending time with my family. My crazy family this past weekend, but I mean my family – Us. Me and T and Dog. We think of ourselves as a family. (Well, Dog possibly thinks of me as a food source, but I’ll take it.) I do sort of take it for granted that I have these two amazing
peoplehuman and dog in my life, who live with me and love me. So yeah, the loss sucks and there are some pretty tough feelings this week, but it’s not long till the weekend and the future.
So… Tell me what you’ve been doing to make your life more fun!
So I’ve had some time off work and I’ve been doing some thinking about the latest adoption-related social media hashtag. Disclaimer: These are just my opinions as an adult adopted person, obvs. I don’t speak for every adoptee, just like you don’t speak for all [insert whichever category conveniently fits into social media hashtags here]. It has also been discussed incredibly sensibly and insightfully on The Declassified Adoptee, so much so that I’m not really sure why I’m writing this post, apart from to say: read that blog, I totally agree with it, and here’s my tuppence (I’m British!) as a somewhat older adopted person who is also going through all sorts with infertility.
A while back, someone decided to start a hashtag called #shoutyourabortion. I haven’t done a lot of thinking about this, apart from in passing to find it pretty distasteful. Even if you are pro-choice I find it odd that you would want to shout about it – I am British, after all, and we don’t really like shouting about anything, least of all medical intimacies.
I also think there’s a subtle but significant difference between being pro-choice (women’s rights to have agency over their own bodies in negative situations) and pro-abortion (“shout your abortion” sounds oddly celebratory to me). But perhaps that’s just me.
My stance on abortion has changed over time… although I think the general gist has remained the same. When I was younger, I was very pro-choice. It was just the way to be, being brought up in a progressive culture where personal choice is king. There’s something barbaric about forcing people to give birth, and not have control over their own bodies – I get that. But as an adolescent I thought of an unwanted pregnancy framed as a temporary state of physical inconvenience; a ball of cells, not a baby; a life that didn’t really count.
(I recently lost one of those “balls of cells” and I can tell you, it did count. I felt the physical pain of my body expelling those much-wanted cells. My baby. It was a baby.)
As an older adult, one who was active in the manner that might produce a baby at some point (oh, the irony of infertility), my feelings started to change. More as a thought exercise than anything: What would I do if I had an unwanted pregnancy? As a teenager it was easy to say “I’d have an abortion rather than ruin my life” but as an older adult that started to feel naive and simplistic.
Firstly, I wasn’t so sure it would ruin my life. As I grew up through adolescence in the 90s, it became more and more apparent that pregnancy was not the horrific, life-ruining state we were once taught it was. In the 90s UK, “single mothers” became the scourge of the right wing press but it did plant an idea in our growing minds that if “the worst” happened, we wouldn’t be destitute. We’d get looked after by the government. We might even be able to go to uni. I’m not saying that this ever appealed to a properly-brought-up middle-class adopted-girl academic-overachiever (and even if it had, there was a shortage of willing fathers-to-be who wanted to get jiggy with a geeky grungy girl in Doc Martens) but I started to believe that it wasn’t such a simple decision to terminate for quality of life. The quality of life argument doesn’t really fly when you have a welfare state that will make sure you are fed and clothed and sheltered.
As I grew older, I started questioning this even more. Because when you think about it, there is something kind of perverse about terminating a pregnancy. It’s doing something that by dint of separation of a mother’s womb becomes legal rather than illegal. It’s finishing a life that would otherwise have carried on and matured into a viable human being. (In most cases: Here I make the distinction between Termination for Medical Reasons and abortion – to me these are two completely different things even if the mechanics are the same. Of course there is very little reasoned argument against prolonging a pregnancy that will lead to suffering of the baby and/or the mother.)
I don’t know what happened to me during this time but I started to have distaste for the pro-choice lobby. Not because I believe there should be no choice. I always believe a woman should have agency over her own body. So for that reason I still fall within the pro-choice camp rather than the pro-life camp. But I think what a lot of the pro-choice rhetoric fails to recognise is the deep fractures in our culture and society where we have normalised and medicalised termination of children’s lives before birth. There’s something weird about people being so strident about their rights to terminate, that we don’t find this shocking. It’s as easy as taking a couple of pills, or having a minor “procedure”. You could do it in your lunch break.
In addition, we have moved on significantly since Roe vs Wade. Abortion is by choice now, and not for medical reasons or psychological reasons (as a result of abuse or rape). And this is what the pro-choice and pro-life lobbies use: extreme situations to justify their reasoning, when most instances fall somewhere in the middle. We won’t get the exact stats for rape or abuse, but it seems apparent from the commentary that for many pro-choice people, abortion is a lifestyle choice rather than a medical or psychological necessity. And I respect that argument, but call it what it is. Justifying abortion for medical reasons or as a result of forced pregnancy is entirely different from “I don’t feel ready to be a mother right now”. Essentially you are conflating Termination to Avoid Harm with Termination for Convenience.
As someone who was adopted as a baby, the reasons given being “young unmarried mother [in a country that didn’t support single mothers]” I guess the aversion to abortion was always woven into the fabric of my existence. Because, I realised when I got older that maybe if times had been different that I might have been aborted… because the narrative of abortion and pro-choice / pro-life debates equates adoption with avoidance of abortion.
I call bull on this.
The alternative to adoption is parenting the child. The alternative to abortion is parenting the child. In logic, we call this a logical fallacy of Affirming the Consequent. In other words, it’s a logic fail as an argument.
If Child A hadn’t been aborted, he would have lived (with his mother).
If Child B hadn’t been adopted, he would have lived (with his mother).
Based on this, I think Abortion = Adoption.
See? It’s a bit silly to say they are both the same decision. They are logically different things. And here’s the thing: adopted people had the exact same chance of being aborted as non-adopted people. There is no reason why adopted people should be more thankful for not being aborted than non-adopted people.
Adoption and abortion are not statistically correlated in a way that suggests they are philosophically equivalent choices in the minds of potential mothers. This 2014 article states:
the rates of adoption versus abortion are vastly disproportionate, suggesting that women themselves are not overly interested in the former as an option. Recent statistics show that approximately 14,000 newborns are adopted annually in the United States through voluntary placements, a number that has remained flat for about 20 years. Meanwhile, in 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed—the lowest number in decades.
For those of you of a statistical bent (like me!) there is a very good statistical analysis of US abortion and adoption data here. This shows that there is not a clear cut correlation between adoption and abortion, and hypothesises about the different factors that may affect the data (such as different attitudes towards having sex during the time period… the 70s; the race of the mother; the employment rates; Medicaid funding…). There is a shedload of information in there, but significantly:
We do not find that Roe v. Wade had a significant effect on adoptions, although our results suggest there may have been a negative effect on adoptions of children born to white women.
A lot changed during the 70s and 80s… Not just abortion law, but also economic and cultural changes. When I was born in the 70s, and growing up in the 80s, it was still relatively normal for a mother not to work. The role of women has changed significantly from the 70s until today. I now work in a “typically male” job and I am the main breadwinner in our family… I know many other women who are the same. That’s going to have an impact on our reproductive behaviour. Quite aside from any effect of infertility (which on gut feel appears to have increased significantly over time, but I could be wrong – perhaps just access to fertility treatments has increased). There are many many reasons why women are not mothers, not just abortion/adoption.
Not your poster child
As an adopted person, I feel pressure to pick a side. We already have the angry adoptees and the happy adoptees (another categorisation that adopted people get very cross about… overly simplistic and diminishing of the adoptee experience, if you think about it). And as adult adopted people we are expected to be spokespeople for adoption. To speak out about adoption as an experience, either to support the adoption lobby (primarily adoptive parents) or to support “adoptee rights” (primarily adult adoptees who are critical of adoption).
And as an “adoptee” (I hate that word), I say this: I am not your poster child.
I didn’t pick being adopted – I just was. I didn’t make any choice to be a representation. I am not a meme.
If you scroll through what’s on twitter against this hashtag, #shoutyouradoption has a variety of stories. In many cases it is adult adoptees saying thanks to their parents for adopting them, and to their first parents for choosing adoption rather than abortion.
Wait a second. I think we just disproved that logic up there. Adoption =/= Abortion, remember?
But in a whole lot of cases, we have people co-opting the hashtag and using children and babies to justify adoption. Here is an example…
I find this massively problematic (and there are countless examples of people using their adopted babies and children to make this point). This girl looks young, and she’s been co-opted into making a public statement that she would have been aborted, had her first mother not “chosen adoption”.
Firstly, think how much of a narrative burden that puts on Kaley, a young girl, to have to be the poster child for her adoptive mother’s wishes to justify adoption as A Good Thing.
Secondly, think about how adoption is a many-layered thing, and whilst it is in many cases A Good Thing for adoptive parents, that child has suffered a great loss (of their first family, and of their first culture and biology and everything other people take for granted). That child is destined to live a life apart from any other person they’re biologically related to. That’s a bit bigger than a poster, yes? (And for those of you who say biology isn’t important… Let’s just say I’m going to take away two members of your family and you’re never going to be able to see them again and you won’t get to find out anything about what happened to them and whether they’re alive or dead. Still think it’s unimportant?)
Thirdly, wait: adoptive mom Shawn… You told Kaley she would have been aborted if you hadn’t adopted her?
I really don’t like to be a bitch about this, but I think you just need to go away and think about that for a moment. Please come back to me when you have a plan for your continuing relationship that doesn’t include the words “saved”, “grateful” and “real”. Kthxbye.
This whole hashtag movement smacks of the narrative burden that all adoptees feel, and falls under that pretty darned awful trope of The Grateful Adoptee – the idea that all adopted people need to feel a huge amount of gratefulness for what they’ve been “given” (no mention of what was taken away). It minimises the very real loss that adopted people have and it minimises the huge loss of the first family.
Because here’s the thing: No matter how you want to frame it (young-unmarried-single-mother-poor-country gave-you-up-for-a-better-life), that first mother (and father) has lost something pretty precious. Their child. And the child has lost them in return. The child that you may want to frame as “unwanted” but who was wanted enough by adoptive parents in more affluent situations for them to expend a lot of effort and money in getting that child. So you can’t on the one hand minimise the value of that child (unwanted, could have been aborted) and on the other hand glorify it (saved, grateful adoptee, a gift – NB all things you probably shouldn’t ever say to your adopted child unless you’re keen for them to hate you in later life).
That’s where this whole thing gets messy, when you use your child to make a point.
For sure – I have no beef with anyone who wants to shout their adoption, if they’re doing it because they want to and not on behalf of somebody else. But do not conflate it with abortion. And don’t speak for your children, please. Their story is theirs alone, and in speaking what you think is their narrative, you’re silencing them. You are denigrating their experience. You’re telling them what to think and feel about their adoption, when they’re not even old enough to have processed it yet. You’re seeing it all as a win for you and not as a loss for your child.
And with every time you speak over your child’s narrative, you’re increasing the chance of alienating them in later life. I’ve seen those adoptees and they scare me. They scare me because I know it could have been me… but I’m one of those people who has not suffered more than I could stand. I have [adoptive] parents who love me and who don’t treat me badly so I’m a relatively well adjusted (ha) adult. If they’d have spoken over me, made me hold up signs on social media about how I hadn’t been aborted, and told me how grateful I should be for having been adopted by them… Well, maybe we wouldn’t be in the same position.
And when it comes down to it: I am not an adoptee. I was adopted but it doesn’t define me, for good or bad. I am me, a human being, with good bits and bad bits – I try for more good than bad. I am totally fine in sharing the fact that I’m adopted. As you may have noticed – I write about it quite a lot. (A lifetime of experience trying to burst out!) But I refuse to be a poster child for adoption, and I refuse to #shoutmyadoption just to further a cause that has been falsely conflated with my existence.
Relating back to my mammoth adoption questions post, I thought I would compile a list of interesting (*I thought) reading on the subject of adoption. I’ve read tonnes of books on adoption over the years so I’ll probably forget a lot of them, but I thought it would be worth listing some of the interesting ones and I can add to them over time (and please feel free to suggest others in the comments).
Ghost of Sangju: A Memoir of Reconciliation – Soojung Jo
This is the latest book I’ve read on adoption, a first person account of a girl adopted from Korea and brought up in Kentucky. I was conflicted about a lot of this and I still haven’t completely finished it – I think because I find it difficult to understand that she so readily gives up her entire life in order to go back to Korea and “reclaim” her original identity. (For instance she was brought up in a – as she describes it – happy family and known as Raina, and is now known as Soojung Jo.) Interestingly Raina/Soojung is both a biological mother and an adoptive mother so she brings insight to the story, and certainly doesn’t scrimp on the emotional details. I found it difficult to relate to as someone who has never searched; nevertheless it is an interesting story and adds to the first person accounts of adopted adults.
The Adoption – Anne Berry
Anne Berry is one of my favourite authors and this book was no exception. Sometimes it’s nice/interesting to read about adoption in literature. It tells the story of adoption from the point of view of three female characters: the adopted child, the birth mother and the adoptive mother. A moving characterisation of the effect adoption can have on multiple families.
Split at the root – Catana Tully
I really enjoyed this first person account of adoption and I could relate to it with its questions on race (Catana is a black child brought up in the whitest of white families) and family (in many senses she is the preferred child to the biological child and her relationship with the biological daughter is honestly portrayed). Catana went on to become a model and actress based on her “unique” looks, all the time rejecting her black roots until she finally addresses her feelings about her biological family and “white” upbringing.
This is a fascinating anthology from the point of view of adults who were adopted. Comprised of multiple stories, poems and writings this is a really interesting take on what it feels like to have been adopted, and how different people have reacted. Some I could relate to and some I couldn’t. It also gives a lot of interesting references for further reading.
Be My Baby – Gail Kimm, Ken Shung
A bit of a coffee table book and definitely one for when you want a positive view of adoption; this centres on the adoptive children, parents and birth mothers with some beautiful photographic portraits interspersed with interviews. One of my favourites.
The Lost Daughters of China – Karin Evans
One of the first books on adoption I ever read as an adult, this talks about personal experience of adopting from China but also references the history and implications for the new generation of adopted Chinese American girls growing up in the US. Although not directly relating to my own experience I found this really relatable. It’s also one of the books I gave to my [adoptive] mother and she also enjoyed it.
As an adopted adult, the stories I enjoy the most are these collections of different people’s experiences. This book tells many people’s stories, from the adopted people to the birth mother and the adoptive parents. One of the better anthologies I’ve read.
What are you? Voices of Mixed Race Young People – Pearl S Buck
Though not strictly focusing on adoption, this book is one of my favourites as a transracially adopted person. I can relate to so many of the experiences described here. The sense of not belonging to either race. Being asked to make allegiances to one race or another. That disjointed sense of identity. It’s all in here. A great collection.
To be absolutely honest, I’ve never made it that far through this book because it’s a bit dry. I think I’ll come back to it in later times (when I can bring myself to delve back into it) – for some reason it never really took off for me. But it’s worth mentioning as it’s one of the few to focus on transracial adoption specifically.
Carried in our hearts: The Gift of Adoption – Dr Jane Aronson
This is definitely one for the Positive Adoption people. I mean, the adoptee as a gift… (More thoughts on that here.) But that said, it contains many positive stories about adoption (and some brutally honest ones) and provides a good overview of the different stages of the journey.
The Primal Wound: Understanding the adopted child – Nancy Verrier
This is another one I never managed to finish as it kind of rubbed me up the wrong way, but perhaps that says more about me than Ms Verrier. This is “the” adoption book that is considered a seminal work in adoption theory – the idea that even if you can’t remember being adopted, you’ll always have a “primal wound” of separation from your birth mother/parents. As one of the “happy adoptees” this makes for uncomfortable reading – it’s the idea that even if I’m happy, I’m somehow mortally wounded and broken. But that said, I think every adopted adult has some kind of weakness (or wound) where they feel a sensitivity over that first loss. It has some interesting theory about how people deal with that – apparently being a “good adoptee” is one way, and rebelling is another. The jury’s out… but it’s worth a read just to see if you agree or disagree.
Lost and Found – Betty Jean Lifton
Another seminal work and I have to confess I’ve never read it. Adding it on here because I might eventually get round to it. I think I never read it as I’ve never searched, and for me the idea that my whole self is somehow predicated on finding someone who gave me up for adoption years ago is a bit tenuous. But I’m not making a judgement till I’ve read it!
That’s all for now… If you’ve read any interesting books on adoption, let me know in the comments!
For some reason I’ve had this one sitting in my drafts folder but can’t quite get my head around writing it. (For the uninitiated, it relates back to my mammoth question-asking post here.)
Warning: This is long! If you fancy reading it rather than just letting it float around in the ether, please go to and get a cup of tea and a biscuit (or a G&T, depending on what time of day it is where you are) and settle in for the long haul!
I think it’s because I feel like there are so many different experiences in this situation that it’s hard (and pointless) to generalise. All I can do is describe my own experiences. I read a lot, and I also read a lot about adoption. I’m the kind of person who generally reads a book a day, or if I’m really busy, a book every 2 days. I rarely go to sleep without having read something on my Kindle… The good thing is you can read it in the dark! When I was little, I used to read under the covers and my dad would tell me it was bad for my eyesight. He was right, as I’m blind as a bat.
Anyway, I digress. The thing I’ve realised about adoption is that there are all these different voices from all parts of the adoption triad and on a general level, much of adoption is about creating mythology. History is written by the victors, and in the case of adoption, for many years it has been written by adoptive parents and adoption professionals.
The old mythology
When I was adopted, which was over 30 years ago, it wasn’t the done thing to have a child out of wedlock. Even as a child in school in the 80s, I can remember the two children who had divorced parents. (Each of the caregiver-parents got together with the other child’s parent, so they had a new melded family based on having been in our class together, but that’s not my story to tell!) It was really strange to think that anyone would have children outside of the agreed norms of a married mother and father.
In the 80s as a child I wasn’t aware of alternative families, even though I was in one(!) – I pretty much had the expectation that everyone’s mummy and daddy had been married before they had them. It would have been scandalous even then for people to have babies when they weren’t married. And it was completely acceptable, then, as part of my own adoption mythology, that I’d been adopted because my mother had me “out of wedlock”. That was a good enough reason to relinquish a child and nobody questioned it as a reason.
My mythology was: I was born [overseas] to a “young, unmarried mother” and she had found herself pregnant without being married, which meant she obviously couldn’t keep “the baby” (ie me). She went to the Home For Unmarried Mothers which was run by [American] Christian missionaries in my birth country and they looked after her and all the mothers there knew that they would give their children “a better life” with foreigners (mainly Americans and British, although my mythology – courtesy of my father the family historian – is that I was almost German). My mother and father loved each other very much and wanted a baby, but they couldn’t have a baby of their own after being married for a long time, so they adopted me, and later my sibling.
Every adopted person has this kind of story. The story their [adoptive] parents told them about how they came to be theirs. And nowadays there are books and things (none of which I had) and poems (none of which I had) and guidance from social workers and adoption workers about how the subject should be broached with adopted children (none of which my parents had). But back then… It was enough to say “She was unmarried so she gave you up for a better life.”
Can you imagine? By the time we’d hit the 90s and (in the UK anyway) the old taboos had been broken down, half of the children in my class had divorced parents, and I even had one child in my class whose dad had become a woman… I began to be much more aware that everyone wasn’t the same. I’d already had my own epiphany* where I had at the age of around 9 suddenly come to the realisation that I didn’t really believe in Christianity. I couldn’t disprove it, of course. But having been brought up very religious – I used to pray for what seemed like hours every night – I had this dawning realisation that it probably wasn’t the way I actually saw the world.
(* Yes, I’m aware it’s ironic to use the word epiphany to describe a loss of religion. Perhaps it should have been a Eureka moment instead. Briefly to describe my view on religion here: I’m what’s probably called a religious apologist rather than a Dawkinsian atheist. I think religion is good in many ways – charity, for example, and a sense of responsibility for others in your community. I know Christianity more than I know other religions, but I don’t think in themselves they are bad. However personally I don’t believe, and I think some of the things done in the name of religion are very sad, and I don’t think there is any reason to live our lives based on it, but I don’t want to prevent anyone else believing in what they want to believe in as long as they aren’t causing anyone any harm.)
The point was, social norms had changed. The main reasons for us being given up for adoption were religious and social, and both of those had changed by the 90s.
Single mothers… everywhere!
Anyway – back to the 90s and the sudden unashamedness of pregnancy outside of wedlock. The first time I really remember realising that it was no longer anything to be ashamed of was when All Saints were on Top of the Pops (a billboard music show in the UK that ran for years and years and was – in the pre-iTunes days – required watching on a weekly basis). One of them – Melanie Blatt – was pregnant, and she was wearing the combat [cargo] trousers which were super trendy at the time, and a tight vest, with her unashamed, extremely pregnant belly poking out. It was kind of a big thing. Until then we had really thought that a) pregnancy was something to be ashamed of, and you should just stay inside, and if you really needed to go out, wear a muu muu or something; and b) I’m pretty sure she wasn’t married. Maybe she was. Maybe she wasn’t. But she didn’t care. She was #1 and in the biggest pop group of the time and she was pregnant and it nobody was suggesting that she should “give up the baby for a better life”.
Then the 90s really got going, and so did the demonisation of single mothers, and the idea that every single mother churned out babies to get a council house, an idea that’s still propagated by the Daily Mail (Britain’s right-leaning middle-England favourite-of-the-bigoted – plus those of us who like to read the comments section for a laugh – newspaper). When I was in senior school (like High School) it was all the rage for people to vilify single mothers and talk about how they should have been responsible and use contraception, otherwise get an abortion – but nobody suggested that they should have the baby and put it up for adoption. (Why would you do that when you could get a council house and keep the baby and not work? – I say this provocatively.) The point was – it became almost a norm that people wouldn’t really bother getting married before having babies.
The new mythology
Things change and it’s now not even the Noughties. It’s the Teens, or whatever we call the decade after 2010. It’s now pretty easy in the UK anyway to get contraception, abortion, keep the baby, get government support to look after the baby… etc. Even now with my group of 30-something peers, I would say nobody is shocked when someone has a baby out of wedlock. It just seems antiquated now. (I myself am doing it! Well, technically I’m still in wedlock, but not to the father of my hopeful-baby… but that’s another story…) People have made their new norms. Nearly everyone lives with their partner before marriage. It would be considered really odd not to. And also, it’s now broadly accepted that some people live with people of the same sex. And they can get married too. People just aren’t so bothered about social norms any more, or they’ve made their own norms.
However there’s now another way of getting your children from you: Social Services. The difference being that it’s not “voluntary” relinquishment of your children. (I know, it’s debatable whether it ever was.) We now have state sanctioned removal of children from parent(s) who are deemed unfit carers. These children go into the care (“care”?) system and some of them, “the lucky few” are adopted.
To get to adoption now, it’s a longer more drawn out process than it used to be. Not for the post 2010 baby a swift handover after birth. The SS may swoop in and confiscate a child after birth but there has to be a reason why… and very few mothers now voluntarily give up their newborns for adoption. For example, the average time between a child entering care and moving in with their adopted family, for those who have been adopted, was 540 days in the first half of 2014-15 (source). A quick calculation from these stats tells me that only 5.7% of all “looked after” (in public care, foster care, awaiting adoption) were subject to adoption orders in the last year. That includes children adopted by relatives and step-parents as well as adoptions from care. That means that if you end up without a parent to look after you, you’re very unlikely to make it as far as adoption. I don’t know what the stats are for my country of birth but I get the impression that in the 70s it was very much considered the norm for children without parents who could look after them to be put up for adoption.
This means a few things for the new adoption mythology:
- Contraception is freely available and there is little stigma attached to women using birth control such as the contraceptive pill. Women are on the whole better educated about reproduction and know that they might get pregnant if they have intercourse.
- If a mother finds herself pregnant now and without a husband or partner, she’ll probably have a reasonably good expectation that she’ll keep the baby. In the UK she will most likely get government assistance to keep the baby, in the form of housing benefit and money to replace her inability to work.
- If she doesn’t want the baby, it is quite easy to get an abortion.
- If she wants to go through with the birth, the baby may find its way into the public care system if nobody in her extended family is willing to look after it. Most likely the baby would go to foster carers and would be relatively quick to be adopted if it came to that. (Babies are still in demand.)
- Many children in care and who become available for adoption have been taken into the care system when they are older than babies. Therefore they have more “history” and may in many cases remember their biological family.
- Recent changes in the law and societal norms mean that it is increasingly likely that adoptive parents need to maintain contact with the birth family in what is known as “open adoption”.
This is why I say to many people who tell me “You can just adopt!” in response to my infertility that it isn’t that simple. Adoption has changed massively since the time I was adopted. You don’t get a tabula rasa baby to make into your own child. You generally are looking at a child who has a history, who has prior knowledge of his/her birth family, and who has an acknowledged right to have access to his/her history and in many cases, contact with his/her birth family. And that completely glosses over the reasons why an older child might be taken into care. In many cases there is significant trauma including many different types of abuse and addictions. The child’s parent(s) probably didn’t want the child to be taken away. That’s a lot different to being a child whose mother voluntarily put you up for adoption.
How does this affect adopted adults?
I think all of this is context for the world we’ve grown up in and are growing into. A world which was very closed when we were adopted, in general. A world which is far more open now and where there is almost an expectation that getting it all out there is good. Knowledge is power and we have the world at our fingertips. Most adults now who were adopted as babies didn’t know a great deal about the circumstances. The expectations were different then, but the technology has changed and we can find out a lot more through the internet than we could back in the days of having to find paper records. Facebook and social media are pretty universal. Many adopted adults have tracked down their first families via the internet or social media. Crowdsourcing information is a thing. Nobody takes no for an answer any more!
I can describe my own experience of having waxed and waned in my interest about adoption throughout my life. (Apparently there’s a thing where adopted people get to a certain age and they want to know more, and there’s also a view prevalent in the adoptee community that you must be somehow repressed if you haven’t searched for your roots or feel bad about it.) I’ve always been mildly interested, for instance I’d read anything available that mentions adoption. But I also have the understanding that things were different when I was born, and I can’t look at the circumstances of my adoption through the lens I use now. Times were different. I was adopted under different expectations – there was no expectation that I would ever again have any contact with my birth family. I’ve always been pragmatic and I’ve generally subscribed to one of my dad’s maxims “There’s no point worrying about things you can’t control”. Because there really isn’t.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t set myself up for disappointment. I know there’s very little documentation around my adoption, and it’s all in a language I have no hope of understanding. So I didn’t really think I should spend a lot of my life worrying about it. It wasn’t until much later that I thought perhaps there might be an expectation from my birth mother that I would come looking. I never really had that idea when I was younger. I still don’t know if I do now I’m older.
There is this kind of trope in the adoption community called the Happy Adoptee, or the Grateful Adoptee. This is all tied in with a number of adoption clichés including the Fallen Birth Mother, the Perpetual Child and the Saviour Adoptive Parents. The Adopted Child as a Gift. The child more as the wanted than the wanting.
To be honest, I’ve probably subscribed to several of these throughout my life and I’ve not knowingly suffered for it. (Not the Fallen Birth Mother, I might add… but I did have this idea of the Happy/Pragmatic Birth Mother, which may or may not be true.) This kind of simplistic view of the world where we’re lucky to be alive, lucky not to have been aborted, lucky to be wanted by someone [even if it isn’t our birth parents] is something I think many adopted people have been brought up with.
For many of the people I know (including 2 very close to me – my sibling and my partner), this idea that adoption is a huge trauma is generally hotly contested. We’re all functioning adults. We all had our niggles through childhood but who didn’t? (In mine and my sibling’s case I think we always attributed any problems to being a different race rather than being adopted.) We are all in long term relationships. We’re just… well… normal.
When I chat to people who were adopted, most of the time we’re at pains to stress that we’re normal.
What about the primal wound? What about the separation from your genetic heritage? What about never knowing anyone you’re biologically related to, until/if you have children? What about thinking that instead of being special that maybe you were a reject?
We all have our wounds. And if you look online and in the adoption literature, you see that there’s an entire spectrum of experience, from good to bad… and if you dig around a bit, a lot of it seems on the surface of it to be quite bad. Even the quite good stuff usually results in an adopted person going through some sort of odyssey to find their “real” family and then jacking in their old identity, the one they’ve had all their life, and reclaiming their old one. (That’s something I never understand. Maybe I’ve been indoctrinated by the adoptive society but it seems odd to go and reclaim something you only had for a very short time and to negate the identity you’ve had for the rest of your life.) It’s as though there is one adoption story rather than many, and so much of it comes down to the adoptee’s search for self.
We have our chats, the “happy” ones and I. We talk about how it’s not all bad, how we have had a good life, how we’ve had opportunities. We reassure one another that we’re normal. We’ve found somewhere in life that we’re very reassured that we’re wanted. We aren’t going to be rejected again. Often it’s people who have not searched for their birth family who are “happy” (although I know people who have and would still be counted as happy). Those who seem angry rather than happy are those want to search but are somehow thwarted, or who have searched and not liked what they’ve found, or who’ve searched and found something they feel angry that they’ve lost.
I think it comes down to two things: Identity and Loyalty.
One of the central questions an adopted person has is this idea that he/she might have been someone different. And I think that’s quite a big thing to get your head around. I think it comes down to whether you think the essence of yourself is something that is more to do with upbringing and surroundings and culture or it is more to do with genetics and family.
For me things have changed over time. My sense of my first identity has been quite fluid. I was adopted at only a few days old so there was never any identity (that I knew of) that I lost. I assume I still look pretty much how I should have looked. (Maybe a bit fatter due to Western diet and I probably dress differently due to UK style, or lack thereof.) I didn’t have any opinions that I know of. And I still think the bit that makes me Me is probably still there. It’s not a language thing or a cultural thing or anything to do with who I grew up with or how. It’s the essence of me. My character.
For example… I’m very hot headed, I’m passionate, I’m sort of creative, can be quite obsessive, I think a lot, I take in a lot and spit it all out again in a mixed up way, I’m loyal to my friends and family, I love very quickly and very hard, I make stupid decisions and comments sometime but I’m always happy for my view to be challenged and changed, I’m flexible, I want to please, I like the excitement of change and I like the comfort of sameness. I’m clever but sometimes not very smart. I have a running commentary in my head. I think the people I love are the best people in the world. I can be scathing of people who are mean or rude. I like making things. I like cuddles but only with certain people and animals and not uninvited – they make me cringe. I speak my mind without always thinking of the consequences. I build whole scenarios in my head and a lot of the time they come out how I thought even if I have never done them. I always want to be loved the best by someone. I have a fear that I won’t have that one someone to love me. I worry that something will happen to people/small furry beings that I love. I want to control things but then when it gets too much I relinquish all control.
I could go on. What I mean is, the things that make up the essence of me – I feel like those things would have been me in whatever language and culture and family I was brought up in, though perhaps would have been expressed in a different way. You can never tell what you might have been, apart from perhaps you could extrapolate in a twin study, but a person is more than just their DNA – even twins who share DNA are different people. A person has what religious people might call a soul. So you can change the flavour of me – I could be British or French or German or Spanish or any other nationality, but there are some parts of me that I think would still be me.
That’s why I’m okay with it. I think in that adopted person’s conundrum I have a way of being at peace with it. I’m still the me I would have been, but with a different flavour (language, culture, style, upbringing and experiences). Of course my experiences have made up the richness of my life. I may not have had those experiences. But I would probably feel and think in a similar way. I still think I’d be the kind of person who worried about being loved the most, or worried about something happening to those I love.
This is the big one for adopted people. I’m sure that most adopted people who were brought up in a nice family (rather than an abusive one) feel a strong loyalty to their family and in particular to their [adoptive] parents. After all, they were the ones who took in the child when they were “unwanted” by their birth family. Raised the child as their own.
The conflict for adopted people is that in order to be a Good Adoptee you will show loyalty and acknowledgement of the love for your family, the only family you’ve ever known if you were adopted as a baby. And so that means that any other feelings towards the birth family are often subsumed or repressed. So the logic goes.
In this kind of dichotomy of “Happy Adoptee” vs “Angry/Sad Adoptee” this means that generally the “good” ones don’t go looking for their birth families, because to do so would be somehow disloyal to the adoptive family. It’s a bit of a psychological feat to be able to hold in your heart two families, two sets of parents, and the idea that “mother” or “father” could refer to more than one person. It violates the sanctity of the parent-child relationship in many people’s eyes that someone could have that same special relationship with more than one mother or father. This is even before you include any of the expressed or implicit wishes of the adoptive parents.
For my part, as I mentioned in a previous post, my parents never prevented us from talking about being adopted, and were always very positive about it and open. However I know also in my heart that they wouldn’t like the idea of me going on a search. I think they would feel that they’d failed somehow, and my mother especially wouldn’t like it because to her, motherhood is pretty much the most important thing in the world. However I also know that they would support me and they probably wouldn’t say that they didn’t like it, and they’d only be worried about me being hurt and that there might not be a positive outcome. I know that my mother lives and breathes for all of her four children whether they’re adopted or not, and it would kill her to think that there might be a situation she couldn’t make better for us. She would hate to think of me being upset by it or being rejected.
Why don’t I search? Why am I not angry?
I don’t not search out of loyalty (if that isn’t too many double negatives!). I do feel loyalty to my parents but I’ve also always been a very headstrong person, and I’d probably go ahead and do it on my own if I really wanted to, and not tell them about it until I knew more. I also know that they would support me, and whilst they’d be worried about me, they’d probably be quite interested. They took my sibling to our country of birth a few years ago – I chose not to go. (It was an expensive trip and I’d have had to pay for it!)
For me, a lot of the anger and the grief expressed by adopted people is because of this loss, and often seems to be related in literature and online with wanting access to information about their birth and heritage. I don’t know why I’m not angry about this. I think because I always knew that there was something that happened a long time ago – I was relinquished and adopted – and I had no control over it and I couldn’t let it carry on affecting me because I never knew anything else. I guess in that sense I’ve been very passive about it. A lot of the “anger” with adoptees is about reclaiming their voice, the active voice, and about getting that information and going to reunion and being able to ask Why. Maybe because I think I know Why, I’m less looking for answers than other adopted people might be.
I think also I have a lack of curiosity about something I perceive I can’t change very much and has a low chance of success. Perhaps if I knew for sure that my birth family was out there and wanted to meet me then that might change my mind. But I’m still conflicted about this idea that adopted people somehow aren’t complete without going through a search and reunion. That seems a lot to put on someone (who wasn’t even involved in the initial decision making to set their life on a different track). And as I said above, I don’t feel like I have some massive hole missing in my identity because of it. There is something missing, but it doesn’t affect my day to day life to the point where I can’t function without going on a search.
Selfishly I am more focused on things that will give me a greater chance of success and mainly in things that will give me a greater chance of happiness. I see these stories online and in books and I find them interesting and I find them poignant and sad a lot of the time. And I read some of the angry stuff and I feel a bit alarmed. That isn’t me or anyone I know who is adopted. I think maybe that there is a slight skew in the written word towards the adoptee voice being quite forceful, opinionated, angry, sad… because for a long time the prevalent voice of adoption was everyone apart from the adoptee. It was always told from the positive voice of the adopted parents, or the adoption agencies, or children in care needing families… and over the years, adopted people have spoken up.
Often when I’m speaking with the “Happy Adoptees” about adoption, there’s this idea that people don’t hear the good stories because the happy ones are just going about living their lives, being happy and normal and so on. I don’t know if this is the case or it’s some kind of adoptee magic smile that we’ve pasted on our faces, but for me I think it’s hard to picture it being another way because I’ve only known this way.
I think you can react many different ways to things that happen to you, and this is a fundamental thing that’s happened, this divergence from who you were originally going to be.
Sad: I think it’s universally acknowledged that all adoptees carry some grief somewhere about the separation from their parents and family of birth. There’s something specific about adoptee grief which is different from the grief of losing a parent or parental separation – it’s the knowledge that your parent(s) relinquished you. And whether they did it willingly or unwillingly, both ways are equally as wounding to think about. Either someone didn’t want you, or someone really did want you but was forced to relinquish you. To internalise that message from a young age, even if you’re “happy” is a difficult and specific task for an adopted person – the specialness of being “chosen” doesn’t erase that first loss. So much of the adoption narrative focuses on needs and wants (especially of adoptive parents and families) and not so much on the loss. It assumes the child has already lost and is at rock bottom and needs “saving”. For all those things, and however happily it turns out, that child has lost something fundamental.
Angry: Many adopted people go through a stage of feeling angry, and it’s understandable when you think about what they’ve lost. As I alluded to above, there’s this kind of unacknowledged [very often] loss which you’re just expected to suck up and be grateful for. There’s anger at the authorities who may have aided and abetted your relinquishment. Maybe if you find out that you were given up unwillingly it seems all the more awful. And there’s anger at the birth parents who couldn’t/wouldn’t keep you. I never knowingly was angry about adoption, I really wasn’t. But I was angry at the world for a time. My adolescence heavily featured me stomping around in Doc Martens angry at the world. My sibling #2 who was also adopted directed anger inwards… self harming and getting very sick in the process. But… People who aren’t adopted also experience these things. Did we ever consciously think that this was a result of adoption? I don’t think so. We generally attributed our difficulties to growing up a different colour than white in a predominantly white community. But maybe somewhere there was something to do with adoption. I don’t know what would have helped. We had to come through it and come out of it in our own time. We both did. Perhaps some never do.
Happy: I would say apart from a fairly rocky adolescence that I have generally been what’s termed a “happy adoptee”. I am that trope. I’m generally fine with it. Yes, I have a good old weep at adoption in film and literature. I seek out mentions of adoption in books and online. I intermittently do a bit of research. But I’m not actively searching and I don’t feel, day to day, that there’s a hole in my life because of adoption. I think my family is a little bit crazy but full of great people who I love and I don’t feel like I have to make excuses about loving them or being okay with that, because we are just a normal family. (What’s normal anyway? We are a weird family; we have our own foibles, but we all love each other and we root for each other and we like each other. We know we are linked by something other than how we’re linked to our friends, even if it’s not blood.)
Am I grateful? Yes, I feel like I am. A lot of the stuff online about adoptee voice makes you feel a little bit guilty for feeling that way, like you’re letting the side down. Like we don’t have anything to feel grateful for – we shouldn’t be somehow indebted to our parents for “saving” us. That as an adopted person I shouldn’t feel an obligation to feel grateful just because I’m adopted. And honestly, I really don’t think that my parents look on themselves as my saviours. And equally they don’t look on me as saving them from infertility. To them, I’m just one of their kids.
I look at it a different way. I’m grateful and I happen to be adopted. I think any nice human should have a certain part of themselves that is grateful for being alive. I’m thankful that my bio mother didn’t abort me, because how could I be wishing to have been aborted? I’m happy that I have a nice family, even through all of their craziness and the things we’ve gone through – I don’t think we differ significantly from any other family, bio or not. We’ve all had our things to deal with and we’ve all had our fun. Some of us like our families (I do) and some of us don’t. I’m grateful I live in a country that allows people some basic liberties and looks after people who can’t look after themselves and isn’t at war. I’m happy that I’m in a nice relationship with a guy who makes me laugh and is caring and is a great flatmate for Dog and is the father of the child I’m carrying now. I have frustrations in my life but nothing I can’t deal with. I’m grateful for being alive. I’m happy my mother chose life for me. I’m happy my parents chose for me to be a part of their lives. In the whole scheme of things, I have very few things to complain about and a whole lot to be grateful for.
I was adopted.