The other day I got to walk through Griffith Park with Mary Anna King, the author of the memoir Bastards. She was the first adopted person I’d heard interviewed online, and it was a big deal to me, hearing someone talk about the thing that made me feel both alone and insane. She gave me hope there might actually be an audience for the story I’d been asked to live but not talk about, the life of an adoptee.
It takes courage to write about things that others tell you don’t exist, trauma, for instance, or an intense longing for a life that isn't yours. I am proud of myself because I sat down and listened to myself and wrote my story with the hope that if others could see what it was like in an adopted person’s brain, my brain, they might rethink adoption and its practices.
I now spend a significant time every week working with other adoptees or people who feel adopted—for anyone who wasn’t adequately mirrored by their parents suffers from similar traumas: lack of self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence, etc. etc.—helping them to find the way to their story. If I could take one thing away from every adopted person it would be fear. Then I could just give them paper and pen and say, “Write.”
What happens is that people are terrified of who they will hurt, who will hate them, who will say they are lying if they tell their own story. I felt that. For over thirty years. The first time I sat down with the decision that I was a writer I was a teenager, and I wrote about feeling like a stream with a stick impeding the flow of the water. That’s all I wrote because I had no idea what to do with that statement, no idea why I wrote it.
Now, of course, I can see that the stick was adoption. How can you “flow” when the family you live with, your family, asks you to sign a silent agreement that states you are 100% theirs, that you have no other roots, no other story? But I didn’t know this was a problem for me because no one was talking. Not my parents. Not the therapists I went to in the hopes that someone could help me stop feeling so sad and lost.
You can live years and years and years trying. Trying to be good. Trying to be a wife. Trying to be an employee. Trying to be a friend. Trying to be a person of worth. Sometimes alcohol helps ease the pain of the effort. Sometimes exercise does. ADD. ADHD. Setting fires. Stealing. Lying. Numbing out. Overeating. And then, one day, something happens and you lose your ability to try, and that is called coming out of the fog. You realize that adoption caused serious, serious problems in your mind and body and therefore in your whole life, and you have no idea what to do next because you live in this life. This life that is not real.
This is when things get good, though. This is when the crack opens and opportunity for radical change occurs. You can finally be you. You just have to pick up a sword and go through the dark cave of not knowing until you come out the other side, you. The sword can be many things. For me, it was the keyboard. I wrote myself to myself. The sword can be your mouth, your paintbrush, your hands. The trick is to confront shame and go through it. You are meant to be here. You are worthy. Talk about why you think you aren’t. Talk about it until you shine.
Someone called me a joke today on Facebook because I wrote that I loved adoption. I get it. I’m supposed to be the person who hates adoption, who fights against it. People have certain expectations about who I am and what I will say.
I said I love adoption because I’ve come to the conclusion that hating adoption is the same as hating myself, and I’ve decided that before I die I’m going to love me the same way I love the sky. Without question. Purely. I love my daughter more than anything in the world, and if I hadn’t been adopted, I wouldn’t have her. So there’s that. There’s all the friends who are adopted I’ve met since I came out of the fog. The first mothers. The parents who adopted. My biological family members: my uncle and his wife, my cousins and their families. My biological father. I love them all.
Most of all, I love how busted I am. I mean, adoption almost killed me. It is a miracle I am alive. Why? Because, truly, I am a joke: what happens when two people get wasted and you turn out the lights? Anne Heffron. What I see is that when I love how crazy I am, how disorganized, how unusual, I love the whole world more. And that feels really good.
I have noticed divisiveness in the adoption triad culture. First mothers think adoptees are cruel. Adoptees think birth mothers are withholding of love. Parents who adopt are afraid of first mothers and adopted people hate parents who adopt. There is a lot of mudslinging that goes on, and it makes the air thick. The irony is ultimately we all want the same thing: love. I understand we are a bunch of injured people walking around with gaping wounds that only we can see, but when we scratch another, we scratch ourselves.
I am sorry I said I love adoption in my Facebook post. I am sorry because I don’t want people to think it’s okay to steal babies or take them away from a mother who needs a little money to make it all work. The fact is, though, there are so many children who need homes. The fact is, no one who created me, and no one in their immediate families, wanted me when I was born. And so, I love that adoption exists because it kept me alive.
When I was a mother, and when my child, my child who was a good, good baby, would cry, I would think about single mothers and I would be so grateful that I had not been abused as a child and that I had a husband and a family as backup because I could understand how an overtaxed mother could shake or hurt a child. Exhaustion can make you do things you normally would never do. I understood it takes a village to raise a child. And the fact is that in our world, adoption is part of that village. Yes, it’s a corrupt, broken system. But if I had the resources, would I go to a foster home and adopt a child. Yes. In two seconds. Even though I knew that child may never bond with me, may live a long and difficult life. Why would I adopt that child? Because everyone deserves a home, even if it isn’t “real”, even if it’s just making the best of a bad situation.
It gives me great pleasure to be a joke. I am my own punchline. All the pressure is off.
I can just be me.
If you like this post, please consider buying my book You Don't Look Adopted on Amazon. If you hate this post, buy the book and use it to dry your dishes.