A couple of weeks ago, I revealed one of our adoption confessions: Our fear of letting a birth-family into our lives. I wrote about all the reasons we were afraid and how we evaded dealing with it. The longer we’re on this journey the more we see that experiences in our lives have given us a unique perspective into the life of the child who comes to our family through adoption.
Honestly, I’ve been afraid to say some of these things on a public forum like this. Through the encouragement of sweet friends (who’ve planted bravery in me with their your-story-is-yours-to-tell pep-talks) I am realizing the importance of sharing this. For myself. For others. For children who are adopted. For children who aren’t.
In the last year or two we’ve heard the same things over and over from professionals and adoptees about the grief that an adopted child will experience at some point in their life. As we listened to their voices release the often misunderstood truth of their experiences, my ear drums would ring and throb as I’d feel the blood in my body drain out and rush back. It all sounded too familiar.
At some point, our child may experience grief over an entire family they don’t know (siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents etc.), over not looking like Chris and I, over unknown medical or family history and a long list of other little things. It would be ignorant to think that Chris and I would ever be able to fill in all the gaps or totally make up for these losses in their life. Because it’s not just one loss- it’s a million little losses that they’ll encounter as they get older. When I wrapped my mind around this aspect of adoption- that’s when all the blood drained out.
“okay class…take home this paper and bring it back with a drawing of your family tree. Then, we’re going to talk about it…” This was a project that caused a great deal of anxiety in my sixth grade mind. I ultimately took an F on this one. To me, that was better than standing in front of my classmates and explaining that I didn’t know who my biological dad was.
Then there was the time a favorite high school teacher made (what he thought was) a joke about “bastard children” in front of the whole class. He didn’t understand the weight in his words. I know that now.
I didn’t meet my biological dad until I was eighteen years old. Until then, the not-knowing left a blank space that I let the world and my imagination, fill in. Ultimately, I just knew I wasn’t wanted. None of the details of how or why he wasn’t around would change that underlying truth that became the foundation of my self image. You see, when there’s blank spaces in our lives- when we don’t understand something- we make a way for it to become understandable. We make an effort to put the pieces together. Children are the center of their own universe (as they should be) and so I made sense of my reality- with myself as the center cause of all events as any child does. Over the years, my imagination filled in all the gaps that were left blank. Some of it was terrible and sad. Some of it grandiose and idealistic. But, little of it was truth. So, when I was eighteen and met the stranger who was my dad- my entire reality began to shift. You see, I’d already created who I wanted him to be and I’d written that imaginary man letters, folded them into tight little squares and hidden them away in a shoebox. I’d already decided he wouldn’t be interested in knowing me. Now, I had to shift all those pieces around. Even my own face became something new to me. I saw him and the next time I looked in the mirror- I almost didn’t recognize myself. And it was all really really really difficult. So difficult that I couldn’t manage our relationship and ultimately had to step back from it entirely. That was in 2003.
Fast forward to 2008 when I made contact with my siblings (thank goodness for social networking). One of the greatest things that has ever happened to me, was meeting my siblings and their mom. They’re wonderful, talented, creative and funny. I have been able to see the best parts of myself more clearly, because of them. My little sister is by far one of my favorite people on the planet.
But, it’s more complicated than that.
Knowing my siblings has also brought me much closer to the pain of never knowing my dad. His absence finds new ways to twist and ache almost every time I’m with them. And the longer I know my siblings, the more I grieve the years we never had together. Every childhood story they share, breaks my heart (and how do you work that into the conversation?)
I have grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who I’ve never met. Who I don’t know if I’m ready to meet.
When we began this journey of adoption, we viewed it as uncharted territory- and much of it is. But one day we looked down and saw some familiar footprints where we were walking and they were ours.
A friend of mine who fought a battle with cancer, recalled in her book, that she knew she had it before a doctor told her she did because someone at her insurance company accidentally signed her up for extended cancer coverage. Oh, and she really really trusts that God is in control of her life. So she just knew. And she was right.
I just can’t help but believe that God is in control of this and that he signed us up for extended coverage long before we fully understood how much we’d need it. I’ve never been thankful that I didn’t know my biological dad, until now.
The worst thing we could do is not make a huge effort to understand the loss from our child’s perspective. To not allow them to express-honestly- how they feel about it as they grow up. To not answer their questions. To not at least consider that it might be beneficial to stay in touch with their birth family.
There is so much grief in the not-knowing, that even the most painful truth, is best. We cannot be threatened by our child’s truth, by where they came from- what message will that send?
Don’t get me wrong; we want to protect our child from anything that could truly be harmful and we want them to have a voice in these decisions. I do know that not every situation or circumstance will lend itself to an open relationship with our birth family. We have no idea what our child’s story will be. But, we want to have all the information we can to fill in the gaps with truth-even if it’s painful.
We don’t have a clue what this will look like. But, this is the story of how God changed our attitude towards having some form of ongoing contact with our child’s birth family.
Oh, and this also had a whole lot to do with it.