Dear Adoption, You Made Me The Great Pretender
Oh yes, I’m the great pretender
Pretending I’m doing well
My need is such
I pretend too much
I’m lonely but no one can tell
Oh yes, I’m the great pretender
Adrift in a world of my own
I play the game but to my real shame
You’ve left me to dream all alone
Too real is this feeling of make-believe
Too real when I feel what my heart can’t conceal…
Ram, Buck (1955). The Great Pretender [Recorded by The Platters].
[Record]. Chicago: Mercury Record Corporation.
Why do I say that you made me The Great Pretender? Well, let’s start at the beginning. At about a week old, I went to go live with the people who became my parents. I became their only child, “as if” born to them. The paperwork with your name, “Order of Adoption”, said so. Yet, before I learned to speak, I knew that the life I was living was not the truth. Who was I? Why was I here? Why did I feel such confusion? It was because of you! I learned I couldn’t talk to anyone about you, or acknowledge your presence because you were the secret that lived inside of our house. I was alone. You were my only playmate. You forced me to play your version of the game you liked best – Pretend. It was never fun for me. You caused me problems, even threatened my very survival whenever I wanted to stop playing. So, I kept at it, pretending that:
Everything was fine.
There was nothing wrong.
I was a happy, cheerful little girl who always smiled.
I was a good child who fulfilled everyone else’s dreams and expectations.
I was just like everyone else, who lived in a loving, two-parent household.
The man who was my father was strong and able to protect me from the monsters that hid in the dark.
He had the time and the will to parent the daughter he loved.
The woman who was my mother liked me, loved me, and was always kind.
She appreciated our differences.
She understood me and always spoke well of me.
I was capable of family bonding.
I was never curious about the unknown, young girl who gave birth to me.
I was not constantly examining people’s faces, hoping to find someone who looked like me.
I was accepted, validated, and celebrated.
I was authentically me.
I was unafraid and unaffected.
I was empty inside and had no feelings at all – like a robot.
And then…I grew up.
I was an adult, yet I was still playing your childish game.
I could no longer pretend that:
I was not full of hurt, anguish, and unshed tears of grief
I was not an unfeeling empty robot! I felt everything, heard every cruel word!
Pain was a consistent part of my experience with you!
I was affected by what I did not receive and what I didn’t know.
When I told you I no longer wanted to be part of your twisted make-believe world, you made me feel like I was a failure, a mistake, who did not deserve to live! You told me I should have done a better job at pretending. You said, if I tried harder at this game, then I wouldn’t be going through such troublesome emotions. As for wanting to find out about my biological origins, you called, “foul”, and said I was out of bounds. You said I was selfish and ungrateful to want to do such a thing. You threatened me, saying I was never going to learn the truth. Until… I did.
My healing started when I held my original birth certificate in my hands for the first time and saw the name of the young girl who I had thought of EVERY SINGLE DAY. From that moment, as if awakened from a dream, strengthened by truth, I gained the courage to finally tell you,
NO…NO more. I QUIT! I am done playing.
-The Great Pretender
Barbara was adopted at birth, into a domestic, same-race adoptive home. She has known she was adopted since she was 3 years old. Due to closed adoption restrictions, however, she only knew her birth name and was told her young mother wanted to finish her education. The adoption laws in the two states that participated in her adoption, Ohio and New York, prohibited her from obtaining even non-identifying information. It wasn’t until 2015, that two significant, life-altering pieces of legislation were implemented. New York changed their registry law to allow adoptees who were not born in the state to join the registry, which was the only way anyone could obtain information. Also, Ohio adoptees adopted from January 1, 1964 to September 18, 1996, could now access their original birth certificates starting on March 20, 2015.
Together with DNA testing, Barbara was able to establish connections with both sides of her biological family and is now enjoying her new relationships with her birthmother, sibling, and extended family members. Barbara is a strong advocate for adult adoptee access to files and original birth certificates. NOTE: Advocates continue to lobby for New York State to allow access to original birth records. Barbara is a contributing author to the book, Black Anthology: Adult Adoptees Claim Their Space, edited by Susan Harris O’Connor, MSW; Diane René Christian; Mei-Mei Akwai Ellerman, PhD.