This is the ninth post of "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption.
I Couldn't Understand Why They Got to Go Home and I Didn't
Written by Amy Guimond for Portrait of an Adoption
My name is Amy. I just celebrated my 32nd birthday, I am married to a wonderful man, we own our own house, and I am in a doctoral program for conflict analysis and resolution. My professional goal is working towards solving conflict on a national and global scale, yet I have an enormous amount of unresolved conflict within myself.
When I was a baby, I was removed from my biological mother's care and placed into a foster home. That foster home placement was short-lived and I was relocated to another foster home until I was about 4-and-a-half. My biological mother didn't want to relinquish her rights, and refused to attend many of the court proceedings. My adoptive parents were both in human services and were really interested in trying an open adoption, as they felt this would be the least disruptive to my emotional well-being. With the possibility of open adoption, my bio-mom finally (grudgingly) agreed to sign the paperwork. My adoption was finalized just after my 5th birthday.
Open adoptions in the early 80's were not the same as they are now, and this was entirely new ground. We had a lot of contact between my forever parents and my bio-family, and over time, this became disruptive. As a child, this disruption manifested in behavioral outbursts, irrational fears and melt-downs. As an adult (when I have attempted communication), disruption manifests as chronic insomnia, a few lingering irrational fears and nightmares. I am 32, and for this reason, I have slept with a baby doll since before I can remember. It helps keep the monsters away.
One night about 15 years ago, I woke up in the middle of a cold sweat at about 3 a.m. I washed my face and caught a reflection of myself in the mirror. I couldn't understand what I was seeing. For most people, when they see themselves, they can make out which features they got from which parent. I've never been able to do this. I stood there, in my pajamas and had a complete meltdown. Who did I look like? Where did I get my gorgeous eyes from? My strong brow line? My awful nose? Having had a sporadic relationship with my biological mother, I could certainly see where I got some of my physical features, but what about the rest?
Over the years, I had tried to ask my bio-mom about my birth father, but each time, the story was different. This left me feeling frustrated, almost as if she didn't trust me with knowing something so important. I got to the point where it just didn't matter to me anymore, so I stopped asking, and started assuming the worst. I have a “real” father anyway. He has been amazing, a true daddy by all definitions, so it's not like I was looking for someone to replace him. I just wanted to better understand where I came from, and the circumstances surrounding how I came into existence.
My husband and I are at a point in our lives where we are starting to think about having children. I am not a parent, but I imagine what it is like to be one. It makes my heart fill with love and joy. I picture myself waiting for the pink lines on the pregnancy test and squealing for joy at realizing that we are adding to our family. Growing up, my parents never spoke a bad word about my biological family and ALWAYS emphasized how much my bio-mom loved me. They told me how much she wanted to keep me, and said that she just wasn't capable. I heard that my whole life, but I am not sure I ever really believed it. It’s not that I don't trust my parents, but sometimes I wonder what made my bio-mom supposedly love me, what motivated her desire to keep me, and even whether she wanted to be pregnant with me in the first place. When I think about my own identity and focus on my own feelings, there is always an underpinning of shame. Why wasn't I good enough?
In terms of my relationship with my bio-mom, though we don't have open communication these days, I still oscillate over how I think of her. Some days it is with great sadness and empathy, because I can only imagine the type of pain that she experienced over the past three decades when she remembers carrying a child to term and having it taken away from her. Other days, I have anger and rage knowing the pain that it has caused me. I've spent years thinking that there was something wrong with me. If only I was a better child, she would have fought harder to make the changes needed to get me back.
I have early memories of foster care, being a young child attempting to process and understand what seemed like a revolving door of foster children who came to live with us, then returned home to their biological families. I couldn't understand why they got to go home and I couldn't. Why should a 4-year-old have to question why she isn't good enough? That 4-year-old still lives inside me.
When I was really young, I would introduce myself by saying “My name is Amy, I'm Jewish, and I'm adopted.” Obviously I don't do that anymore. Because the truth is, I am NOT an adopted child. I WAS adopted when I was a child. Having been adopted is part of me, and will probably always have some kind of impact on me, but it doesn't need to define me. I am who I am. Does knowing I was adopted change that?
So don't be offended if, after meeting me a dozen times, you find out that I was adopted. I wasn't “keeping secrets” on purpose. Perhaps I didn't tell you because I didn't want to be accused of lying about it, like I was by a college boyfriend who thought I looked too much like my parents to not share DNA with them.
...Or perhaps I didn't tell you because I didn't want to hear someone ask (for the millionth time) whether I know who my “real parents” are. Of course I know who my “real parents” are! They adopted me as a child, they kissed my boo-boos, they checked closets for monsters, they nursed my broken heart after my first break-up, they took late night phone calls in college, they walked me down the aisle when I got married, and I still talk to them almost every day. Isn't that the definition of “real parents?”
Or perhaps I didn't tell you because (this week) it is an issue for me.
Or perhaps I didn't tell you because (this week) it is a non-issue for me.
Or perhaps it never fit into the conversation. Or maybe I wasn't ready to expose myself, insecurities and all. Or maybe I didn't think it mattered.
Because I know who I really am. I'm Amy. I'm smart. I'm beautiful. I'm talented. I'm caring. I'm creative. I'm strong. I'm loving. I'm loved. I'm a daughter. I'm a wife. Someday, I will be a mother too. Sometimes I am sarcastic. I cry at old telephone commercials and sentimental greeting cards. Sometimes I laugh so hard that my stomach hurts. I'm ticklish. I sing along to every song on the radio although I am tone-deaf. My favorite food is strawberries with sour cream. My favorite color is blue. And yes... I was also adopted as a child.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. If you have a story you would like to submit as a candidate for next year's series, please email it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.