gallery Dear Adoption, You Taught Me Well

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Dear Adoption, You Taught Me Well

You taught me to hide my emotions and to gauge the feelings of those around me and conform my own feelings to theirs. You taught me so well that now, in midlife, I must somehow learn to recognize my very own feelings, desires, and opinions. Adoption you were a natural teacher!

I was 5 years old before I could hear the “Happy Birthday” song sung to me without bursting into tears. No one knew what was wrong with me, this strange child who started to cry as soon as the first few bars of the song began. These are some of my most vivid early memories; cake, candles, my family singing anxiously as they watched me and waited for what would happen.

Adoption, you taught me that crying was the wrong response to the birthday song. I remember talking to myself, willing myself not to cry. This year I will not cry. I did not (and do not) like to upset anyone. As my 5th birthday celebration began, my family gathered around the kitchen table, my parents and grandparents carefully watching me. My small hands tightly clutched the seat of my chair, and I silently admonished myself DO NOT CRY. I was worried I could not pull this off yet.

My mom put a beautiful, pink cake down in front of me, lit with 5 candles set in pretty, plastic, flower candle holders. My family began to sing, all eyes on the birthday girl. And I felt the familiar surge of sadness, loneliness, and emotion rushing upwards into my tightening chest. If only I could keep it from getting to the very top of my throat where it would burst forth out of my mouth in unwanted and mysterious cries. I swallowed hard, very hard, and breathed as shallowly as I could to keep the sadness down.

Miraculously, it worked that year, and every year after for several decades. Everyone was thrilled. The song was over. I hadn’t cried! My parents and grandparents were so happy, and part of me was happy too because they were pleased with me. However, I had tricked them, because I was actually still sad, so very sad. Only, I had no words for my sadness, no way for me to know, or let my family know why I felt such despair. That sadness was now pushed way down deep inside. It took me 40 more years and a painful reawakening to these buried truths to get to the root of my birthday sadness. And even though I know why my heart is heavy at this time every year, it has never gone away.

Adoption, I am a bad student. I am trying to forget your lessons and to allow myself to feel the heartache and other emotions I kept at bay over the years. Nowadays, I give myself a lot of leeway and grace around my birthday which, in a nefarious twist of fate, falls on or around Mother’s Day as well. Early May arrives and with it waves of sadness and grief. But I am gentle with my sorrow now. I allow it to take over for this time, and I feel it all.

Vanessa Sager was adopted during the baby scoop era in the late 60s. She grew up in a loving home with parents who did the best they could with what they knew. There are no demons in her story, only kind people for whom fate did not return their kindness.

11 comments

      • Hi – is this your personal story – if it is could I have your permission please to use it with my submission to a new inquiry down under to change adoption legislation in the best interest of the child – children who are in out of home care – they want these children to be adopted – we have fighting against it – because there has to be a relative or a family member that can look after the child/ren – down under no matter what has been written in the past – prospective adoptive parents want the right to raise a family – and they want to do away with the mother’s consent – also the right to choice i.e the mother cant say no – to her child being adopted by same sex male couple – my email address is motherstruth@gmail.com -to receive your permission to include it in submission as I will need to include your written permission too – with gratitude and thanks

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  1. What an adorable little 5-year old you were Vanessa, and with all those big emotions wrapped up in such a tiny, cute package no wonder people who loved you didn’t understand. Though it would’ve been great if we all had, I think it’s much more important that you do now, upon reflecting!

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    • I agree! My thoughts and emotions surrounding adoption have changed throughout my life. It is comforting now, through the wealth of support there is for all adoptee experiences, to be able to explore and reflect and grow as an adult adoptee.

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  2. Vanessa, My daughter was born the first week of May in the late sixties, and Mother’s Day was the last day we spent together. For years I was overcome by sadness and grief in late April / early May, without even being aware that I was reliving the loss of my daughter. And regrettably, I hated Mother’s Day, and had a difficult time celebrating that day even after I had other children. Being seen as “mother” of two by the world did not make up for being an “unmother” to my firstborn.

    Now, 49 years after her birth, I am fortunate to have a warm relationship with my first-born. I know I am not the person she thinks of as “mother”….and she has led me to believe that she never suffered the sadness that you have so beautifully expressed. I am grateful for that, if that is her truth. But I will always regret losing her, and every moment of her life that I missed being her mother. Such is the legacy of adoption.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this intimate portrait of your 5 year old self. As an adoptive mother, any awareness I can gain from an adoptee, will help me better address and meet my daughter’s needs. Every adoption story is different, but at the core of each story, are the whispers of profound loss.

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  4. I was adopted at 6 weeks old and brought home on my Moms 40th birthday. My adoptive parents were awesome!! Spoiled and loved me my Mom and I were extremely close. She died when I was 37 and destroyed me. My brother died 6 months later on my Moms birthday and my Dad died 1 yr later. Have no family left and I miss my parents so much!!!

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