…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.
I mentioned a while back that an adoption group I am in nominated me to receive a free DNA test. Some kind donor had donated money for several adoptees to receive DNA testing kits, and they chose me as one of them.
For those of you who aren’t adopted, this is a kind of fun thing… and for those of you who are, you’ll know what a pretty big deal it is. I have written quite a bit about adoption, given that I started this blog primarily to talk about my feelings on infertility and my hopes that maybe one day I’d have a biological child. I guess that thinking about your own fertility (or lack thereof) brings up feelings for adoptees about being adopted.
I know that I could start the search for my biological family. I’ve written about it here before… I am more fortunate than many adoptees that I have my original birth certificate and certificate of adoption signed by my first mother. So it’s not like everything is closed off to me. But right now I’m not yet ready to do that, to ask officials in my birth country to search. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like once B is here that I will feel more ready – more complete? I don’t know. I think if you’re not adopted you won’t understand the feeling of wanting to feel worthy and complete before possibly wanting to try and meet your birth family.
Anyway, the money arrived in my account from the adoption group, and I duly sent off for my DNA test. A few weeks ago, it arrived. I ordered two – one for my sister and one for me. And I sent the one to my sister as an early christmas present – I know it’s really early, but I think maybe she might want to process it or think about it or even not do it, so that’s why I sent it early. Mine has been sitting on the coffee table for a few days. I still haven’t opened it.
I know once I open it that I’ll have to produce some saliva and package it up and send it off. But I don’t know if I’m ready yet. This seems crazy really, because I’ve had 30-something years of life to be ready.
What are the implications?
I will find out what my racial makeup is. I’m pretty sure I know, and it’s fairly obvious from looking at me roughly where I come from, but it will tell me the genetic breakdown.
It will tell me if there are any diseases I’m genetically predisposed to. Most adoptees don’t have a medical history. I’ve always had to say, “I don’t know – I’m adopted.”
Maybe – very long shot – it will tell me if I have any relatives (however distant) who are registered on the database. I can even take the DNA data and register it on other databases and it will tell me if I have a distant cousin, or even a sibling.
So, yeah, the box is here, but I’ve yet to open it.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a transracial adoptee, and I live in the UK. Fortunately for me, this means that I have British citizenship (as a result of being adopted by British parents) and have had a British passport since I was a baby.
Meanwhile, my fellow transracial / intercountry adoptees in the United States do not all have similar privileges. In fact, 35,000 of them fell between the cracks when Clinton granted post hoc citizenship to adoptees in 2000. This act, the Child Citizenship Act, granted retroactive citizenship to adoptees born after 1982 (ie, who were minors in 2000 when the act was passed) but did nothing for the adoptees who were over the age of 18 at that time.
Let’s think about this for a minute. 35,000 – thirty-five thousand adoptees who were brought to the US as babies and young children and adopted into American families, and brought up as American and never learned or forgot their birth languages are not American.
Why does this matter?
Imagine for a minute that you don’t have citizenship of the country you’ve lived in all of your conscious life. Imagine there’s a country you were taken from as a child where you don’t speak the language, don’t know people there, and don’t “belong” to.
And imagine, because your adoptive parents failed to file the necessary paperwork in all the excitement of importing you that they left you completely vulnerable to being deported back to your country of birth. A country you don’t know.
Imagine that a racist endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan has just been elected President of the country you grew up in. A president who ran on a ticket of preventing immigration, deporting “illegal” immigrants, not to mention all the mysoginistic, homophobic, minority-hating extras.
Oh yeah, and you’re one of those “illegals” he’s talking about when he talks about deporting immigrants.
Because your adoptive parents forgot, or didn’t know, or couldn’t be bothered to file your paperwork.
This is what happened to a Korean adoptee called Adam Crapser this week. (I’ve already posted about Adam, who was adopted aged 3 and survived two sets of abusive adoptive parents, and whose crime was to break into the latter set’s house to retrieve his belongings from Korea after they’d kicked him out. Oh and his adoptive dad was later prosecuted for child abuse. Doesn’t this sound like he already had enough to deal with?!)
Adam is not the only one. 35,000 adoptees that Americans took into their families, treated well or badly, and didn’t bother filing paperwork for are now at risk of being deported in Donald Trump’s attempt at ethnic cleansing.
If this seems crazy and unjust to you, do something about it and join the campaign.
I am adopted. I am not less than. I do not deserve to be treated as less than a citizen – and I’m not, because I live in a country that recognises that adoptees are “just as much” as biological children.
35,000 adoptees do not.
A post I wrote on a transracial adoption discussion group a few days ago. Seems pertinent today…
I work in an American company (even though I’m in the UK) and I know people who are intending on voting for Trump. It genuinely scares me that a country I love, holiday in and where I have lots of friends (including people of colour – POC) would seriously be considering voting this guy in for president.
I’ve heard a lot of Americans liken this to Brexit. This is nothing like Brexit. Brexit is the decision to consider leaving the European Union (which has been challenged in parliament and which a significant minority voted against). Yes, it has some xenophobic undercurrents but it is not about enforced deportation. It is not about violence against women. It is not the same thing at all.
If you think Brexit sounds bad, imagine an America led by Trump. It is not the joke that people think it is. It’s a very real threat.
And then take a look at the POC you know, and the ones in your home. I imagine there are people in [this transracial adoption group] who are considering voting Trump, who have performed some mental gymnastics to justify why there’s no connection between voting for this guy and the POC sitting in their home.
Let me be clear: Even a Brit can see this.
Voting for Trump is an act of violence against your adopted child.
Voting for Trump is an act of violence against POC.
Voting for Trump is an act of violence against women.
Tonight we went to see our private doc for the 29 week scan. (Couldn’t do the recommended 28 week, as we were on holiday, so it’s all pushed back a week.) The good news is…
- B is looking nice and normal and healthy and it turns out that the private doc measured his abdominal cavity 5 times and could not replicate him being in the top percentiles for that. He is above average (the little chubster!) but it’s still well within normal range, more like 70-75th percentile from eyeballing the chart, and he said he wasn’t worried about his size as it was consistent with our previous scan with him.
- We talked about how the NHS uses lots of different sonographers and they also measure the abdominal cavity (where they told me B was measuring high growth in the upper percentiles) in a different way, by trying to fit it into an oval whereas the private doc measures height and width separately to calculate the circumference.
- T and I could see B moving around and saw his little face. He has definitely chubbed out since the last time! The doc said that until 28 weeks your baby is developing and then after that he starts fattening up. So it was really nice to see he looks more like a baby. Bit worried as he seems to look like me! Doc even tried to get a few 3D pics but unfortunately B was not playing ball and had his face pressed right up to my uterine wall, which meant you could only see his face in a blur. It was still cool though.
- I got my 29 week mails from various places (The Bump, Mothercare etc) and they keep talking about Braxton Hicks (practice contractions). I looked it up to understand what they were and I realised this weird sensation I get is that! I’ve had those for weeks though. It is weird to think that strange sensation is an actual thing rather than just what I imagined was my weird body.
Overall I feel quite reassured by these, although I’m supposed to go in for the glucose test on Friday. Neither my private doc or my midwife think I’m diabetic. We shall see!
Really horrible news arrived via FB – a friend’s brother had died. I looked into it a bit more as he was young (like half my age) and it seemed like a horrible shock. Apparently it was very sudden and the circumstances were that it was possibly related to an accident that happened a few weeks ago. It seemed so horrible that such a young guy could have his life wiped out so suddenly. I suppose it reminded me of the fragility of life. And how everything turns on a dime. One day you can be here and the next day not, and it’s worth remembering to make the most out of life and be grateful for our health.
Finally, I experienced a random act of kindness today. I may have mentioned I’m part of an online group of thousands of people regarding transracial adoption. I guess I’ve been pretty active there lately – not sure why. Maybe it’s that being pregnant has made me think more about being adopted. One of the things that has hit me pretty hard is the idea that B will inherit some of my racial characteristics, but as a transracial adoptee, I have none of that cultural background to give him. I guess I have come to terms with being “ethnic” but I feel helpless when it comes to imbuing my child with any kind of racial identity.
One of the things the group I am in does is a sort of fund where they give money towards adoptee causes, relating to specific needs of adoptees in the group. And they just had a donation that was to go towards the DNA testing kits which give you your genetic breakdown, allow you to find possible DNA matches (if people have registered) and an idea of your medical history. This is something that is a missing piece of the jigsaw for adoptees in closed adoptions as you don’t have your parents who can tell you this. I was thinking I would do it for my adopted sibling and me for Christmas, but the cost is pretty high – around £300 for the both of us.
Anyway this evening a couple of the admin team messaged me and told me they had voted and picked me as one of the recipients of the funds to pay for the DNA testing kits. Initially I messaged back saying there must be more deserving causes, but they told me they’d all voted and picked me!
I was so touched that when I told T on the train back from the ultrasound, I actually cried. It’s not so much about the money, which is substantial and makes it much easier for me to buy it for my sister for christmas. It’s the idea that someone out there who doesn’t know me in real life cared enough to do this. The donor who gave enough money for several tests for adoptees, knowing this is a big deal for adoptees. And the admin team who decided that out of thousands of people in the group, they wanted to give it to me.
So yeah, a pretty poignant day for me today.
If you are in the USA and you haven’t heard about the case of Adam Crapser, you need to read this. If you are an adoptive parent or a prospective adoptive parent, you need to read this.
Adoptees brought in from other countries to be the sons and daughters of American citizens have been denied the rights of Americans. They are being deported “back” to countries they were taken from as children, not knowing the language, away from the only families they’ve ever known. The case of Adam Crapser isn’t an isolated one. He is just one of the victims of the US system that places inter-country adoptees below the rights of citizens. In limbo, until something comes up on a check and they realise they’re not a citizen of the country they grew up in, after all.
America should be ashamed.
This was a question on one of the adoption discussion groups I’m a part of. I started writing an answer, and then it turned into a pretty long answer, and I thought I would share it here.
Q: Should you adopt if you also have biological children?
There is so much more I could say about this than could ever be said in a brief comment. It’s complex, and what happened happened and cannot be undone, so it’s a strange thought exercise to pretend it could.
I am the eldest child of my parents; they adopted me shortly after birth after ten years of infertility. They were living in my country of birth at the time and they realised that there were a lot of babies available for adoption – it was a pragmatic decision on their part rather than any sort of “White saviorism” that I’ve become aware of. They genuinely thought it made sense. I’m still loathe to say it didn’t. They adopted my sister (non bio, “like the washing powder”) a year later and thought their family was complete.
However, five years later, like the well known adoption cliché, my mother went to the doctor concerned she was putting on weight.
“You’re five months pregnant!,” he said.
My brother was born a few months later. The Golden Child (as he’s still known). And then – surprise again! – my youngest sibling was born another two years after that.
My feelings on whether people should adopt if they also have bio children are complex, because I love my siblings and I love my parents and on balance I have had a good life. My parents’ pragmatism and “colourblind” approach is clearly not de rigeur nowadays. We were treated pretty much the same as the bios, allowing for individual differences in personality and interests. And it’s hard to say you wish your siblings were never born. We had a childhood as a gang; moving around different countries for my dad’s job meant we always had friends in each other.
BUT – as I’ve grown up I’ve been very aware that the “natural order” was changed through our adoption. I’ve always been extremely emotionally needy and battled for attention (and got it, within the family) and played The Oldest to the best of my abilities (leader of the pack). I’m aware I stole the Golden Child’s birthright. In many ways he acts as an “oldest”. I clashed with him growing up. I was overwhelmingly jealous of him in the way I wasn’t of the youngest, who I doted on (and still do).
Realistically I love all my siblings but #3, the first bio, the miracle, the Golden Child, is the least close to me emotionally and character wise. He is the very epitome of white privilege, and I admit that I resent that everything comes so easy to him. He’s never had a day of difficulty in his life, and the slow realisation that he would have an easier time progressing even though he’s a mediocre student compared to my battling for acceptance as a straight A scholarship student was a tough lesson to learn. For me I guess he stands as a sort of emblem of white male privilege. The sad thing is, he’s a really nice guy and I don’t give him enough credit because I’m blinded by envy and the differences in our personalities. We have a healthy respect for each other but rarely seek out each other’s company. That said, I’m sure it’s the same for some bio siblings.
I’ve waxed and waned with my adopted sibling. In many ways we tried to plough our own furrows because the assumption was always that we were twins because we were roughly the same race (we don’t look remotely alike; it’s the racism of “they all look the same to me”) and we are extremely different personalities. I was a bullied geek turned fighter/leader. My sibling was always appeasing and popular and assimilated but maybe lost for a while in doing that. We were best buddies as young kids, separated at school and rebelled in our separate ways, and have gradually come back together. We are good friends now. For many years my sibling struggled and I’m sure adoption had a lot to do with it. I always thought I was the coper and my sibling was the screwed up one; lately I’m thinking maybe one of us just processed it first.
My youngest sibling is my favourite. Even though we are furthest in age we always got on best. I’m not sure why I’m not jealous of the youngest in the same way… I think it’s because of personality and also that my youngest sibling is gay. I feel that this means my sibling is much more empathetic than most people and knows what it’s like to be a minority. My sibling is also probably personality wise the kind of person I would like to be – doesn’t let bad stuff win and always perseveres to make dreams come true. And probably is the one who gets on the best with everyone. I guess this is often a factor of the youngest.
The complexity in mixed adoptive/bio families is that even if you resolve to treat them exactly the same, the outside world won’t. When people tell me that [my race] don’t get racism, I feel like I’m always the one rocking the boat or trying to forge a new path, acting differently from “normal [my race] females” (whoever they are – hardly any in the UK). For me our family is a perfect microcosm of a controlled experiment: white male privilege vs female of colour. And it hurts.
As an adult I don’t blame my mother for being overjoyed at having a biological child after 15 years of infertility. He WAS a miracle. But I was reminded for all of my childhood that I wasn’t, and I never felt good enough, despite her constant reassurances. He was a mini version of my dad. I didn’t resemble my parents and that hurts. Especially with my dad. Everyone thinks a mum with two little ethnic kids is cute; an adult male with a non-white female is seen as some sort of power play. It hurts like hell that the role of [my race] females is so tied up in sexuality that my relationship with my dad is seen as something else from the outside. If we go to dinner, it’s assumed I’m his girlfriend at best and a prostitute at worst.
The other thing I would say is that environment matters, and there may be compromises to be made that benefit the children differently. When we lived overseas we were in a diverse, multicultural and expatriate (mainly American) environment. Maybe it was privilege and/or youth but I never noticed racism until I moved back to the UK, and it took me a while to figure it out. Overseas all the kids were more or less treated the same (we were at least special and cool in a way, as adoptees, and we probably all were treated with privilege as expats) but back in the UK, it was a shock to be treated so differently from white family members. The move back to the UK disproportionately affected the adopted kids (racism) but I would temper that with getting a British education which has enabled us all to get “good” jobs and be self sufficient. I found British education miserable and racist but… it did prepare me for life and work as a British adult (less miserable but still a lot of racism).
One thing my parents did do with varying degrees of success was to try and make us all special and recognised in our own different ways. I was the smart one, one of my siblings was the musical one, the golden child was the sporty one and the little one was the politician (got on with everyone!). They really did make each of us feel that we were The Best at each of “our things”. (The problem comes when over analytical adoptee me would be thinking that society values sports more than academic prowess.) I do think it’s important to give each child something to be proud of and best at. Also, I always felt very wounded by the miracle of the golden child but my dad would try to make up for it by pretending I was his favourite. I do think that helped. I just think some children are more emotionally needy than others. I used to try and add up how much each parent loved each of us, which is stupid but shows how my mind worked. (Probably still does.)
The hardest thing I’ve dealt with as a grown up is that realisation that I may be a genetic island. As the oldest, I got married first and I should have had a family first, but – irony of ironies – I’m infertile. So I’ve struggled with that for years whilst the golden child did everything “right” – married his childhood sweetheart and had the perfect two naturally conceived children, one boy, one girl. To me that is the hardest thing to deal with right now and feels like one more thing that has been taken away from me. I always felt like there would be some healing in having my own family, a child who looked like me, and I can’t describe how painful it is to think that likely won’t happen – especially when everyone’s response to infertility is “Why don’t you just adopt?” Neither of us adoptees wants to adopt. I think that maybe says something.
We often vied for position in our family. We’d all defend each other to the end but the fact is, with four kids you have to fight for attention. From the outside we are all pretty pushy. I’ve had a lifelong battle to feel special and I’ve gotten into some bad relationships because of it. But is that adoption, or is than just me? I’ve always wanted to feel chosen and to be someone’s favourite. I think a large part of coming to terms with it was meeting my partner, who was also adopted as a baby (same race adoption). For the first time I had someone other than my adopted sibling who understood and was willing to talk about it. It’s helped me unpick a lot of my feelings because it’s almost like having a control group for race/adoption.
My partner was adopted as the younger of two (non bio) siblings and is extremely close to his sibling, even though on the surface they have very little in common. I think this is because (aside from the fact that he’s an amazing human who invests in others) they only had each other. I think that and the same race adoption cuts the complexity somewhat. They also had a much easier time searching for their bio parents which I think eases some of the questions that come up, whereas I feel that’s an almost insurmountable obstacle for us.
Honestly, I’ve always joked with my dad that they should have stopped with me. And whilst I would never get rid of my siblings – I do think it would have been easier if I had been an only child or if my adopted sibling and I had been the only kids. I think adopted children need to feel more than anything else that they’re not second best, or a backup, or a charity project – but the fact is, they are one or all of those. A fundamental fact that I’ve always lived with is that if my parents hadn’t suffered with infertility, I wouldn’t be here in this life. That’s a lot to grow up with.
Some things I think potential [transracial] adoptive parents should consider with mixed adopted/bio families:
- Can you trust that you’ll be able to value each child as special and make them truly understand, to their core, that you love them equally?
- Do you realise that might not mean demonstrating it in the same way to each child? Adopted children, especially transracial adoptees, are likely to need more support and grounding and help developing their identities than your bio children.
- Many adoptees I’ve met have had “issues” with feeling like they belonged and are second best – how are you going to help deal with this?
- Are you willing to advocate for your child? Second guess and elicit how they’re truly feeling, and get beyond their adoptee desire for acceptance and people pleasing? (Adopted children often demonstrate more people pleasing behaviours than others, because they are afraid of further rejection.)
- How will you react when they’re Othered and how will you help them cope? What happens when it’s your biological child who’s othering them?
- When it comes down to it, are you willing to have exactly the same loyalty to your adopted child as your biological child?
From my point of view, I’m not in the position to tell people what to do with regards to growing their family. If you are going to do it, you’re going to do it and some random person on a blog isn’t going to affect that. If you’re already in that position then I hope you are still considering these questions and understanding that adopted children and bio children do not feel the same and will not be dealing with the same sorts of identity issues – particularly if they are transracially adopted. That’s not to say all is hopeless, but it is complex.
I am happy and generally okay but that’s in spite of the experiences I’ve had and not because of them. Growing up different is hard, no matter how much your parents love you (and mine do, a lot). Their love cannot protect you from the rest of the world and if you’re the different one, you have to learn to navigate the world and your difference within it on your own.
Another thing: adoptees are not static. They are not perpetual children. They grow up, they experience and learn and change just like other people. And so it’s important to understand that your child’s feelings about adoption won’t remain static throughout their lives. Their desires to connect with their birth culture may wax and wane too. One of my biggest regrets is that I resisted learning my birth language as a child – my parents encouraged me to, but I didn’t want to – I didn’t want another not-very-fun-sounding task to do. Now as an adult it is a big blocker to me revisiting my birth culture.
So what’s the answer? I have no answer. I only have my own lived experience.
If you don’t have experience of adoption or race then I urge you to the very large number of adult transracially adopted voices and testimonies so that whatever you do, you go into it with your eyes open.
(Or: Seeing things through other people’s eyes)
We had a kind of exhausting weekend, full of the kind of social butterfly activities which remind you that you are too old for this shiz. I always thought of myself as the young one, mainly because all my friends were a few years to a lot of years older, and now I realise I really have no claim on that title given my advanced age and general overall desire to sleep.
On Friday night we went out for dinner with friends so we could celebrate Dog’s birthday in advance and hand him over for the weekend. It’s very comforting to have friends who are almost as crazy about Dog as we are! We went to a really nice pub and had a very civilised meal and Dog actually behaved… Although that was possibly more to do with the fact that he had four humans feeding him burger and fries under the table. Still, it was his birthday weekend so was good to be spoiled!
For the first time in this IVF round I had to do an off-site injection (where I bring all the injection paraphernalia with me). I was kind of keeping my eye on the clock and when it was due, I just headed off to the bathroom and injected my Menopur. Not too bad! Although obviously no sharps bins in pub bathrooms so I had to repackage the syringe and take it with me. Progress!
We were dropping Dog off with our friends as we were away for the weekend doing a birthday celebration overload. First of all we had T’s aunt’s 70th birthday party. This was about 2.5 hours away which meant we hired a car, which is exciting as we don’t have a car and meant we could pretend to be proper grown ups and whatnot. We had to be at a small village in the middle of nowhere by lunchtime on Saturday, and it being family and “old” people, we couldn’t be late.
Unfortunately for T, he happened to mention that it was sort of near-ish to an outlet shopping centre I really like, and he wondered if I would like to go en route… Is the pope a Catholic?! So we ended up taking a slight detour to the outlet and eyeing up all the merchandise. Fortunately for T, I am still on austerity until we buy the house, although I did have my eye on handbags in Coach and Kate Spade. I decided not to go for them given we are trying to get this house sorted, which means our bank accounts need to be nicely under control and it makes no sense to spend hundreds of pounds on handbags anyway. (But… They’re so pretty!) It was fun to walk about though and a pleasant detour ahead of a busy birthday weekend.
The 70th party was really nice. It was all of T’s extended family, some of whom I’d met before and some I hadn’t. I don’t know if this is a personal thing or an adoptee thing but for some reason I always find it fun to meet people’s families. I love big family get togethers. I guess maybe as we lived overseas when we were younger, we didn’t get to see our extended families very often so it sort of felt like a treat. Also, this is probably definitely an adoptee thing, but I find it fascinating when I meet people’s families and can see the family resemblances. It’s like… If you never had that yourself, it’s sort of mesmerising to see it with other people’s families.
It just so turns out that in T’s family, the family resemblance is really strong between the females. Firstly his mum and aunt look really similar. And then one of the aunt’s bio daughters looks the spitting image of them when they were younger. And it struck me that whilst there is probably far less focus on T himself having been adopted – because he’s white, adopted into a white family – it’s still visible that he doesn’t look “the spitting image” of his parents like his cousins do. It made me wonder how that made his mum feel when she looked at her nieces who looked so like her and her sister. It’s just one of those adoptee things that you wonder about.
In the end we had a fab time. They put on a great lunch party and everyone was really friendly, including those I hadn’t met before. I think you can sort of see where T’s kindness and friendliness comes from, as his family is very like that. Strangely it also reminded me of my ex’s family, who were sort of my surrogate family as we lived a lot closer to them than to my family. (It’s strange when people split up how you don’t just lose that relationship, but the entire extended family.)
Being slightly detached too it means that you are reminded how other people see things. Like people are still sort of interested (generally in a kindly way) that I don’t “look” British, and yet I speak “very good English”. Depending on the age of the person I’m usually more or less tolerant of comments like that. To be honest, I see people of my own race and I’m moderately surprised when they speak perfect English. I think it’s a sort of cognitive dissonance that you get as a transracial adoptee – you look one thing but you act like another.
Following that very genteel and civilised 70th birthday, we then had to drive another couple of hours to get to a surprise 30-something party. This was the one I was worried about as it was for T’s friend who I’ve never met! We’ve been together a good few years and I’ve met lots of his friends but this was for one from his hometown. When they meet up, it tends to be on boys’ nights out and so I just never met this bunch before. They were all 30-something couples and we surprised the birthday boy by turning up when he thought he was going for a night out with his wife.
The whole evening was weird for a number of reasons – not unenjoyable, but a bit strange. The first is that all the others knew each other. They were long time couples who were married with kids and so the mums knew each other as a result of the dads being old friends (of which T is one, but he moved away). It was sort of strange firstly because I wasn’t drinking, and everyone else was. T and I had discussed tactics and we thought I would order a drink but he would drink most of it and I could just take sips. (The things he does for love!) I think a lot of British culture depends on drinking, so it’s really weird not to drink, as social occasions revolve around it. Because of this, it’s easier just to order and drink and take a few sips than it is to not drink – as soon as you don’t drink, people start asking questions and I really don’t want to have to deal with questions about pregnancy when I’m going through IVF.
Secondly, as a result of going through IVF I think my hormones are probably all over the place. I actually didn’t mind the idea of having a drink or two (I’m in the stims phase) but I don’t think it mixes well with the meds. For the first week or so of stims I’ve had really bad headaches, and now I feel not that bad but the alcohol made me feel sick. We started off in a pub and then went for a meal (the type of meal people assume I like because of my ethnicity… I don’t like that sort of food at all, haha!) and I just sort of spent most of the evening feeling a low level of nausea. I was also very conscious of needing to remember to take my injection and the stress (mild!) of having to get away from the group and inject in the toilet (like a druggie!).
Thirdly, all of the people in the group – there were three other couples – were parents. And literally the main topic of conversation with the females was about children. They were sort of beside themselves at being on a night out because they don’t get to do it very often. So they wanted to get completely drunk and let their hair down, and they didn’t really have many other topics of conversation than their kids.
I guess I just felt a bit of an odd (wo)man out, not having kids and not really wanting to get drunk. Really I feel like I am past that stage – I like a drink or two, and I like going out for cocktails with my girlfriends or having wine with T over dinner, or going to the pub – but it’s not a big thing. Most nights I could do it if I wanted to – I just don’t want to. I have Dog to get home to, and I’m tired and old (!) and it just doesn’t seem the draw that it was in my twenties. And it always feels a bit weird if you are the sober one in among all the drinkers!
What I also found was that the men spoke to me a lot more than the women did. I think the women realised that I wasn’t in their gang and didn’t have kids, and I just think based on previous experience that men tend to be a bit less standoffish when deciding whether to be friendly or not. They weren’t unfriendly, the women – they were polite, and nice. But I could tell that we didn’t have many topics in common. At least one of them was a full time mum whereas I am a full time worker (for my dog!). So it was a bit weird I guess. They kept bringing up kids and asking the awkward questions (where they assume we don’t have kids because we don’t want them) and talking about whether they wanted any more, and I just thought wow, it must be nice to have the luxury of assuming you’ll be able to have another child if you want to.
The other thing is, I was the oldest out of all of them. And I probably started trying to have kids around the age that they had theirs… I just didn’t have any due to infertility. If everything had gone according to plan, I would have the two or three that they had. The youngest person there was early 30s and I’m late 30s. And the funny thing is, I really didn’t look like the oldest. T said “That’s what having kids does to you!” – I was sort of in shock! And the way that people moan on about kids, sometimes I do think that they possibly aren’t as great an addition as we think when we are going through fertility treatments!
It probably sounds like I’m being really negative but it wasn’t bad at all – it was fine. But I’d sort of rate it as less enjoyable than the family lunch – chances are, the only time I’d ever see them again would be if T and I got married. Or maybe they’d get more interested in me if I had a kid!
In the end, after a Sunday lunch with T’s parents we got home and we picked up Dog and it was his birthday. Every time I’m away from him I’m super excited to see him! It’s probably a bit pathetic but I really do miss him when he’s away. It always seems very quiet at night when he isn’t snoring his little head off!
The IVF update:
Stims: I’m finishing up Week 1 of stims with 250 of Menopur with the Buserelin down to 0.25. Over the week I have had a few headaches but they seem to be calming down. My boobs are now swelling up like gigantic humungaboobs, which T is very happy about. On the plus side they aren’t sore any more like they were during my period and down regulation, but they do make me feel self conscious and fat. It took me ages to find something to wear for the weekend parties as both my boobs and stomach are all swollen. My belly feels like it’s all swollen too, and I can sort of feel what I imagine to be my ovaries, but I feel generally better than I did earlier in the week.
Next scan: My first scan is on Wednesday instead of today (Monday) based on the fact that I was a slow responder last time and they think it would be pointless to scan me today. I don’t feel like I’m in any danger of OHSS as I have swollen up but I feel sort of okay. It actually worries me as it makes me think maybe I’m not responding to the stims. We will have to see on Wednesday.
Immune stuff: I’m still taking the supplements (baby aspirin, Omega 3, Pregnacare, Vitamin D) that Dr S recommended. Once they have an idea when my transfer will be, based on when egg collection is likely to be, he wants me to go get an intralipids infusion and also start heparin injections and prednisolone for the NK reaction. I won’t really have much of an idea until Wednesday as to whether my ovaries are responding. In the first scan I only had 6 + 3 follicles, which sounds a bit rubbish. I’m hoping there will be more than that.
Head stuff: Aside from the constant reminders of childlessness (which I’ve sort of gotten used to), I’m feeling generally okay. From memory, Gonal F seemed worse than Menopur is now, but it is probably a result of being very chilled out at work due to working my notice! I have some work to do for a guy I like working for, but there’s really not much pressure so it’s quite enjoyable. I’m due to start my new job in June which will mean more money and a bit of a change, which I think is positive!
IVF makes you think. I’ve already been pondering adoption stuff a lot, I suppose as a result of this process because you have to face up to the fact that you may never have a biological child. One of the things I’ve had to try and wrap my head around is the sheer number of people who seem to be pregnant, both at work and in my personal life. Not to mention blogspace where many of my fellow bloggers are now pregnant. I’m happy for them and it gives me hope that it will one day be me, but I still have days where I feel like everyone else is moving ahead whilst I’m still in the trenches. I have to keep reminding myself that infertility and loss is painful whether it’s 1 year or 3 (or in my case, over 10). But generally I’m sort of philosophical about it because there’s not much I can change about it.
T and I are getting on well and he is super supportive which is great. We talk a lot about our future child, who already has a name, and we’re also planning to move into our new place in the next month or so, which is really exciting. I thank my lucky stars every day that I have such a great partner – he is just the best human I’ve ever met, and I always feel happy that we don’t appear to be sick of each other so far! We have a vague Plan B if this doesn’t work, and we will probably try and focus on doing some nice things like getting the house nice and going on holiday before paying for a private cycle. I kind of think that I’ve lucked out with T and Dog and that maybe that is as much luck as anyone can have.
So hopefully this will be our lucky cycle, but otherwise, I keep reminding myself… Everything will be okay.
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.