Adoption and the Quest for True Belonging…
Adoption and the Quest for True Belonging…
The decision to look for my biological family at the age of 25 was not an easy one. I had been adopted at birth and my adoptive family had been my only understanding of the concept of family for my entire life. When people would inevitably ask me about my adoption experience, I would say, “I’ve been with them since birth, my family are my family.”
Looking back, I think that the “that’s that” mentality that my answer reflected is the pretty little answer that people want to hear, all wrapped up in a bow. It was almost as if to say, "don’t worry, I’m not going to start some incredibly awkward, difficult conversation with you. Here’s your happy ending.”
Black or white, no grey. People like that.
Inside, there was a different story going on for me.
When people would ask me what my ethnicity is (the most common question I would get asked as a multi-ethnic woman traveling the world), I would freeze up and shut down. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized the importance of this — of not having any idea where I come from.
Who am I, and why am I the way that I am? Not only had I never seen a single person that looked like me before, but I had never met anybody that FELT like me. I had never met another person that acted like me. Without the story of my cultural, biological, ancestral heritage, I often felt that I had been plucked from the sky.
It is near impossible for people who are not adopted to understand this lack of identity. If I turned around and said that my mother had died in childbirth, you would feel sad for me and could understand how I could miss my mother, crave my mother, need my mother — without ever actually having met her. You could understand me wanting to know everything I could about her, after all, she was my mother. But when it comes to adoption, that grief is not socially acceptable, nor recognized as valid or important. None of this is to say that my adoptive parents were not incredible parents, who I bonded to, who have supported me as only parents can, and who I love very much. But it’s the false dichotomy that’s so painful — the suggestion that if I need and miss my biological mother, then I’m dishonouring my adoptive family. In the words of my mum, “there’s enough room in the tent for everyone”.
One thing that I know for sure is that the only people who would say that biology doesn’t matter to your identity at all, are likely people who have never had to deal with not knowing their own roots.
It took me ages to tell my adoptive parents that I wanted to look for my biological family — it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that holding that secret inside almost cost me my life. Thankfully, they were nothing but supportive, and my process in finding my blood relatives was lightning fast. Within a few weeks of receiving my original birth certificate, with the name that my birth mother had given me when I was born (Maria), I had my entire biological family (mother, aunties, cousins, second cousins, grandparents!) all messaging me on Facebook. They were totally open and welcoming, too. It was a dream come true. I met my first biological relative in Paris in June (he was there for his honeymoon and I had just moved back to London), and I met my biological mother in Rome in July. Both experiences were truly everything I could have ever imagined them to be — natural, easy and effortless, like we had been together all along.
What’s life like after reunion? That’s the million dollar question, and one that I’ve had great difficulty in coming up with an answer for. This moment, right here, of walking down the longest hallway I’ve ever walked down and looking into the eyes of the woman who gave me my life, was one of the most important moments I think I’ll ever experience. The information that she shared with me about why I was placed for adoption, and who she is as a person has answered many deep, life long questions for me. We see so much of ourselves in each other, and that brings us both peace.
At the same time, I wouldn’t say that it has resolved everything for me. Now I am faced with a strange desert of no-mans land. I have two families — one who I share an entire life’s history with, who are there for me, who are my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, but who I often feel completely different to… and another family who I in many ways look, act, and feel like, but who have an entire life’s worth of memories that I’m not a part of, and who, ultimately, are still a family unit without me. Sometimes, feeling like an outsider really hurts. Still, I wouldn’t change what I did for the world.
For me, now that I have the answers that I sought, I feel it is up to me to start to really practice gratitude for all of the different types of family that I have around me, and trust that everything happened for a reason. I am starting to learn now that although I may never have a sense of those deep roots, sense of safety and belonging…. well, in many ways, love is where you are. It is in every moment, in every person you meet, if you are open to it. It is up to me to accept that my life is as it is — it is more than enough.
Starting to uncover my biological roots has helped me to know myself more, and therefore helped me to accept and love myself more, too.
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.” ~Brene Brown