Over time, exploring and celebrating my full identity as a transracially-adopted person, has become something that holds great value. It has come with tests, challenges, and countless rewards. Doing it takes courage and fortitude to honor the gains, acknowledge the losses, and analyze the elements that don’t quite add up.
I have always known I was adopted. I am brown and my family is white. The idea was pretty straightforward. I was consistently told that my birth mother loved me so much and wanted a better life for me, a life she felt she could not provide, so she settled on adoption. After several months in temporary foster care, I was placed with my family and eventually adopted by them. The agency told my parents to start using the word adoption in conversation, and that should suffice. My parents being no-nonsense New Englanders took this council, warmly made space in their family for me and that was that. Everything added up – white woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and carrying a bi-racial baby plus white adoptive parents that were open to a baby of any race equals an adoption match made in heaven.
I am not exactly sure how old I was when I began to realize that this co-called simple adoption equation had many, many layers and was more like calculus than 1 plus 1 equals 2. On one hand, it was simple – I felt a deep love from and for my family – the only family I knew. On the other hand, there was another family out there that was connected to me biologically that I did not know. Who were they? Did they look like me? Was I like them in any way? And deeper and more complex than that there was the fact that I looked different than most of the people I grew up around.
Holidays like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and personal holidays like my birthday usually amplified these thoughts, feelings, and questions – “who am I?”, “where did I come from?” and “why was I adopted?” There were no easy answers to these questions and things did not add up…there were gaps, big ones, that kept my mind occupied trying to work out the complicated equation floating in my head. There was no calculator I could use, and there certainly was no way in hell I could “show my work” as was so often demanded in math class. Instead, I would mull the circumstances over in mind - over and over and over again – never sharing my thoughts and questions. Of course this impacted my mood and my spirit, but I had no way of fully grasping and understanding that.
Months like Black History Month would put a punctuation mark on the confusion surrounding my racial identity. What makes me brown? Who are my ancestors? Is black history my history and do I have a right to celebrate it? I have educated, empowered and embraced myself and learned of my ancestry via DNA testing. I have made a second home in Harlem, NYC and I love being a woman of color, part of the Dinwoodie’s aka “The Woody Hillbillies” and a Harlem American.
Slowly, over the years, I began to realize I could shift the equation and rework things a bit. I began to uncover different pieces of information, filling in gaps and adding elements. One thing I learned that blew me away was that my birth mother named me June Elizabeth. This was so meaningful because I had learned that some adopted people were not named by their birth mothers or birth fathers. It was also ironic because my adoptive parents chose the name April Elizabeth not knowing that I had already been given the name June. In the closed adoption era, adoptive parents selected a new name for their adopted child and the original name (if there was one) would be kept secret, and my original birth certificate was sealed and locked away.
After discovering more of my non-identifying information and making connections to members of my extended family of origin, I realized that the name June held a special meaning within the family. My maternal grandmother was named June (everyone called her “JuneBug”), my birth mother’s middle name was June, and I had a niece named June. All of this connection to my original name was something to hold dear, even in the midst of managing the pain and confusion of ultimately being rejected my birth mother as an adult.
Once I located my birth mother, she made it clear that she did not want to meet or to have a relationship with me. At this point, the equation was not just complex, it was beginning to unravel. If she loved me so much and she wanted me to have a better life, why would she reject me? I had so much to share with her about my life, the life she wanted me to have, so why not embrace it and me? The way she rejected me was probably one of the most painful experiences I can recall of, and still is. The only thing worse is likely being separated from her right after my birth, which my spirit, body, and senses remember but my mind does not. The only way I made it through the initial separation at birth and the rejection as an adult was with the deep love of my family and the many kindred spirits that have become part of my extended family of adoption.
After taking some time with the grief and confusion, my New England constitution kicked in and it was time to channel all of that energy and do something. Taking this step was empowering. I began to reflect on my experience and how all of it could add up to something that could be a blessing to others; and with that, AdoptMent was officially born. My thought was that if my experience with my birth mother was so transformational and challenging, how must it be for young people in foster care that experience pain, rejection, and confusion regularly? The program, where adopted adults mentor young people in foster care, offers a way for young people and adults that share some of the same experiences to come together and create bonds and relationships. Creating AdoptMent has been one of the greatest joys in my life thus far, and is an example of how I began to rework my equation.
Throughout these years since my search and developing AdoptMent, I have been presenting at conferences sharing my personal and professional adoption experiences. At many of these conferences, I have the blessing to connect to wonderfully creative people and be led by them to process and bring to life many aspects of adoption. One year while attending Joyce Maguire Pavao’s Summer Intensives in Province Town, I had the pleasure of being part of Penny Partridge’s workshop on 6 word narratives. She invited us all to think of 6-words that bring our adoption experience to life. It was so easy for me, I remember counting out the words on my fingers…“Born - in – June - Raised - in - April”. Just then, I felt something massive shift. There it was, my beautifully complicated truth neatly wrapped up in six little words. It meant so much to me to have those words that reflected me, all of me. They honored my roots and my wings.
I immediately became “JuneinApril” on all social media platforms and bought the URL.
So here’s the best part…I am not born in June or April. I am born in October. So, when I introduce myself nine times out of ten, I get “Oh how cool, my birthday is in April…” or “Are you born in April too?”. I always smile and let them know that I am not and that my parents just liked the name.
One day, someone I adore and admire asked me why I refer to myself as “June in April” and I explained my names to her and I topped it off by saying…”Oh and I am actually born in October, so everything and nothing makes sense.” She quickly said to me, “April, it all makes sense...April the 4th month plus June the 6th month equals October the 10th month.” Wow, I thought - 4 plus 6 equals 10 – how perfect! I could not stop smiling and reveled in the truth, the irony, the joy, and the imperfect perfection that is me…June in April.
I have come to realize that my perfect 10 is rooted in making space for open, honest, and often tough but necessary conversations about adoption and its many layers, validating the emotions that are embedded in adoption and challenging the process.
At my very beginning I was June, but only for a short while, and then I became April. April was all I had ever known until I made the bold, terrifying, and important decision to search for my full identity. My search experience has not been that fairy tale reunion that people dream about and I had hoped for, but it has been enlightening, inspiring, and emotionally healing.
This October 27th, I turn 46. I can’t help but smile and think about how everything does add up. There are certainly still gaps and the equation is not simple math, but I no longer have to figure it all out in my head. I can work it out on paper; I can erase, rewrite, and share my truth as messy and amazing as it is. It may not be perfect, but I know that the sum/total of my identity is still unfolding; I am finding such richness in sharing my truth, and that is certainly something to celebrate!
Click here to listen to this month’s and previous episodes of the Born in June, Raised in April Podcast on iTunes.