Dear Adoption: You Have Changed Everything and Nothing About My Life
Let me explain:
You, along with your co-conspirator, Relinquishment, have changed my name. You severed my connection to the mother who conceived and bore me and interrupted the bonding process with her. You sentenced me to an ongoing struggle with attachment, identity, self-worth, trust, unhealthy coping mechanisms (starting with a connoisseur-level potato chip addiction and spiraling downward from there). You created laws that, in essence, told me that I was someone’s “dirty little secret” and had no right to know where I came from. You changed the places I went, the people I knew, the education I received, the experiences I have had, and my sense of belonging in this world. You demanded that I subvert my questions, grief and rage because the primary emotion that should consume me is gratitude, since I could always be sent back to where I came from or disinherited.
If I had been raised in my family of origin, I would have grown up in white, middle class, Protestant Minneapolis. As it turned out, I grew up in white, middle class Protestant Denver. You “saved” me from the prospect of being raised by a frightened, petite, single brunette woman who, a year after I was born, married a nice, safe accountant instead of my dashing Don Draper-esque birth father. She had four more children (who probably would not exist if she had kept me) and drank herself to death by age 43, with her secret known only to a couple of people. Her nice, safe accountant married his secretary a year after she died. Instead, I was raised by a petite, married brunette who adopted a daughter before me, bore a daughter after me, and lived to age 89 with her nice, safe telecommunications installation supervisor. They loved us with everything they knew how to give.
So, Adoption, you have changed almost everything, and since that fateful day on which the papers were signed, I have been riding some mad, high speed cosmic pendulum, swinging back and forth from crying (a lot of crying, they told me) to wonder, to ambivalence, to outrage, to powerlessness, to activism, to insight, to disorientation, to relationship, to disconnectedness, to gratitude, to despair, to acceptance, to profound meaning, to pointlessness, to rejection, to lovability for over a half-century now. I can say with complete candor that I am tired of being an adoptee, tired of thinking and talking about you, tired of trying to figure out what you mean to me and how I can manage your next flash mob — usually dressed up like giant Feivels singing “Somewhere, Out There” in a capella harmony — invasion of my psyche. I want you out of my life, but you refuse to leave. I have hated you and the suffering you have brought to me and millions like me, disguised as a win-win-win for everyone involved.
But, Adoption, in many ways you have also changed nothing about what my life has looked like, and are therefore not as powerful as I used to think you were. No matter who raised me, or where, or what my name was, I am still me. I have still faced essentially the same developmental challenges and life decisions along the way.
I am still the embryo whose mother’s best friend encouraged her to abort me. Thank God that, at the time, she viewed me as something more than an inconvenient, excisable tumor and she would hear none of it. I am still the knock-kneed, intelligent, verbally and musically gifted boy who had to try to reconcile the encouragement to “use your God-given gifts” professionally against the expectation to pursue a sensible career with good benefits. I am still the kid who wore nose plugs and pulled himself along the wall rather than actually swimming during summer YMCA lessons, but nonetheless grew up to be a decent competitor in three-mile open water ocean races. I am still someone who grew up in the shadow of the (not always so great) “Greatest Generation” through the turmoil and assassinations of the sixties; the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation; the disco era; M*A*S*H* and Friends; Michael Jackson and Madonna; seeing Krista MacAuliffe vaporized with the explosion that killed the Challenger crew; the 9/11 attacks, and now what some have dubbed 11/9 – the 2016 election debacle.
Like the non-adopted masses, I am still someone who has had to learn how to confront life’s challenges, including bonding, differentiation, identity formation, finding meaning, friends, success and failure. I’ve had to explore and form convictions about spirituality and faith, pursue romance and higher education (or not), battle self-sabotage, cynicism and disillusionment derived from the “school of hard knocks”, forgive others when I have been wronged and seek forgiveness and reconciliation, where possible, when I’ve hurt them. I have experienced familial love and generosity side by side with dysfunction and dynamics handed down from past generations. I am, in many ways, like the average white American male of my generation. Though you, Adoption, initiated me into a unique fellowship of shared dynamics, I still have more in common with the non-adopted than the adopted, upon whom I ruminate. In these and countless other ways, Adoption, you have changed nothing.
Except, perhaps, that you have made me more compassionate and humble (with a long way yet to go) and you have forced me to think and feel more deeply than I find easy or comfortable. You have taught me that control is mostly an illusion. You have catapulted me out of a life that could well have left me in the shallow swamp of self-deception where many of my contemporaries still appear to flounder in the belief that life’s externals matter most, and that identity can be derived from wearing the jersey adorned with the name and number of one’s favorite Denver Bronco or Minnesota Viking. You have taught me that the point of life is not so much to avoid pain, be a “success” or always be happy, but rather it is to live with authenticity, purpose and passion — all of which come with a significant personal price tag.
You have bullied me, pinned me to the ground, thumped my heaving chest and punched my bloody tear-stained face until, humiliated and enraged, I summoned the will and strength to throw you off and then, as if by some Divine appointment, join up with an awesome team of adoption reform warrior princesses to kick your two-faced, lying ass like a seemingly invincible monster in a video game — at least here in Colorado.
Although we will never be friends, Adoption, for these things I honor you and thank you for being one (but only one) significant factor that has shaped me into who I am becoming.
Your involuntary servant-no-more,
Baby Boy Allmon a.k.a. Richard Uhrlaub