Dear Adoption, Who Am I Really?
That’s one of those existential questions that we ask ourselves throughout our lives: as growing children; angst ridden teenagers; young adults starting our own families; and in our middle ages when we question our trajectory in life. However, no matter what the stage of life, the question of who you really are is deeply underscored by the possibility that, if you’re adopted, you might never know the full answer.
I was fortunate to grow up in a loving home with parents, whom I kinda resemble. My mother is a lighter skinned African American woman, my father was darker than her, and my skin tone is in between. We looked like a family. I’ve always known that I was adopted and I’ve been very open with any inquisitor about my life with loving adoptive parents. As a kid, to help me be comfortable with the fact that she hadn’t given birth to me, my mother told me that she carried me in her heart, not in her belly. I liked that.
When I got older the question of who I am was never more important to me than when my wife and I created another life together, a little person, our son Seth.
One day when he was an infant, I was at home alone with him. He lay on his back waving his hands, kicking his feet, and staring up at me, his dad. As I looked down at him I started to cry. In that moment, it really hit me that he was the first biological relative I had ever known. I was already deeply grateful to have him because he was conceived naturally after several failed attempts and struggles with infertility. But for this special boy to also be my first branch on a genetic family tree that had no trunk and no roots was emotional and spectacular!
Over the years, I’ve spoken with other adoptees who’ve had a wide variety of different adoption experiences from mine. Some adoptees ponder their identity because they don’t quite feel a full connection to their adopted family. It may be that they have very different personality traits or truly disparate interests. Sometimes adoptees don’t look like their parents or siblings. Their appearance may invite questions from others like “Where did you get your hair, your jaw line, your eyes?” Transracial and cross-cultural adoptees may be immersed in a loving family, but a glimpse in the mirror or a glance at the family portrait can be a reminder they don’t share physical family traits. They may inherit genetic conditions that spark deep curiosity about who passed the conditions on to them. Of course, any trip to the doctor’s office might be an unexpected reminder of a missing medical connection to one’s family. “Is there any history of ______ in your family?” “I’m sorry, I don’t know, I’m adopted”, I used to reply with both pride and an odd sense of guilt for not being able to answer the basic question, “Who Am I Really?”
Many of us have searched for, located and connected with our biological families — for better or for worse. There are periodic news stories about some of the most amazing reunions you could ever imagine. One thing missing from many stories, though, is a detailed back story of how that adoptee grew up. I’m always eager to learn more about their feelings being an adoptee in their family and community, their desire to search for their family members, and the obstacles on their tactical path to make a connection to their biological familiy. There are some heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of adoptees stopping at nothing to find out who they are. Some seek the services of search angels, scour public records, and bend the rules to get more information, and hope that technological advances like DNA matches and the increasing ubiquity of social media can lend more clues.
I’ve shared my reunion story many times since I found my mother, Ann, in 2009. The process of telling my story has helped me profoundly, so I wanted to find a way for others to tell their stories too. So, I created the “Who Am I Really?” podcast. My guests share their incredible journeys from their adoption through their search, and eventual connection with their biological relatives. We discuss how they overcame an array of challenges througout the process and what their emotions are now that the connection is made. In each story I hope you’ll find something that inspires you, validates your feelings about wanting to search, or motivates you to have the strength along your journey to learn “Who Am I Really?”