Today I welcome Susan Perry to Death by Great Wall. Susan is the first blogger in a series of Monday posts by adult adoptees that I'm calling On Being Adopted. I hope you'll read Susan's story. If it speaks to you, please share it on Facebook and Twitter.
I was a 52-year-old adult at the time, but as an adoptee, my hands were shaking and my heart was pounding as I picked up the phone to return a call from the woman who had given birth to me. Several weeks before, I had sent her a compassionate and carefully-worded letter by certified mail, expressing my openness to exchanging information with her, and accompanied by a brief, easy-to-understand medical questionnaire that my daughter, a physician, had prepared.
My original mother had already returned the questionnaire along with a brief, rather terse note -- "Please do not try to contact me again. I've thought about you often and in my heart I love you, but I have no desire to meet." I already knew from my agency's "non-identifying" information that my original mother had another daughter -- five years old -- when I was relinquished. Her note to me also added, "My daughter does not know about you. Please don't cause problems."
So it came as a shock to me when I returned home from doing errands to hear her voice on the answering machine: "This is Mrs. xxxxx. Please call me back. I would really like to talk with you."
What did she want? Was she calling to yell at me for sending my letter and disturbing her peace? In many ways, as a product of the closed adoption system, I had been conditioned to accept that my own history was none of my business, and my agency had told me that my original mother was "an angry woman, tough to reach." Would she be willing to tell me more about my own beginnings? It didn't seem likely.
Before picking up the phone, I jotted down some questions, knowing that this might well be the only opportunity I would ever have to connect with her.
Our conversation was brief and tentative, but it lifted a great weight from my shoulders. Her tone was soft and conciliatory. We both agreed that "adoption is very hard." I assured her that my adoptive parents had been loving people who had provided me with a warm and stable home. She told me once again that "she loved me in her heart." But she had health problems, she said, and she didn't feel comfortable enough to meet, or to plan any further contact.
I was disappointed in one way, because I would have liked to have had the opportunity to get to know her better. Yet the conversation was so helpful and liberating for me, all the same. My original mother, the woman who nobody ever mentioned or talked about, was not a ghost -- she was real, a human being just trying to forge her way through life the best she can. She wasn't a monster; she wasn't a saint, just another human being on the journey of life. What in the world was the point in keeping her identity a secret from me for all these years? As a child, I was left to wonder whether there was something terribly wrong with her, or me, since no one ever mentioned her existence, much less her name.
As a young adult, I thought about her in more tangible terms, of course, especially when I had my own children. But I didn't feel comfortable enough in my own skin then to circumvent all the societal barriers and attempt contact. And I was so afraid of hurting the feelings of my now-deceased adoptive parents, whom I loved deeply. Sadly, I never did talk with them openly about how adoption has affected me, and yet in just about every other area, I shared a close and meaningful relationship with them.
I used to think that because I loved my parents so much, I had to love adoption too, or at least keep my conflicted feelings to myself. Now I can say confidently that an adoptee's feelings for her original family in no way diminish her love for her adoptive family.Too many adoptive parents, I feel, are still conditioned to believe that if they love the child enough, the identity of the original parents well never be relevant or important.
What I would like adoptive parents to know is that the adopted person has two families, recognized or not, and battles about which is more important are non-productive and can be corrosive to the adoptee's soul. As a grown adoptee, my message is simple: love is and should be expansive, and there can never be too much.
Shared at Growing Slower's Tuesday Baby Link-up.