Adopted by My Step Mom

Angsty teenage lessons learned

Kenna Shumway May 25, 2014
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I spent most of my teenage years feeling abandoned.

It’s sad to think about, but it’s just the way it was. You see, my stepmom adopted me when I was 8 years old, and even though she had been in my life from the time I was 3, we never really got along. Sure, I called her Mom and she called me daughter, but things were such a hot mess. She had to navigate the world of stepmom-turned-adoptive-mom, and I had to navigate the world of, “Wait, but who is REALLY my mom?”

This is one of a few photos I have of my birth mom.  Her name is Mary.

This is one of a few photos I have of my birth mom. Her name is Mary.

The basics of the story are these: My birth mom took off when I was a young little Kenna. I don’t remember much, if anything, about her. I have a few photos, but that’s it. My adoptive mom stepped on the scene when she married my dad, and I’ve called her Mom ever since. Case closed.

The day my biological dad married my step mom.  Thus began the journey.

The day my biological dad married my step mom. Thus began the journey.

Okay, not case closed. As I learned more about my birth mom, and with the already struggling relationship I had with my adoptive mom, I really didn’t feel like I had a mom at all. I couldn’t understand why my birth mom would just leave me. Not only that, but why had she never tried to contact me? Didn’t she love me? These thoughts combined with puberty to make the angstiest years of my life. No one would tell me about my birth mom, at least nothing positive. I heard about how awful she was– how she stole, made bad choices, abandoned me– and it made me hate her.

The day my adoption was finalized.  I had just turned 9 years old.

The day my adoption was finalized. I had just turned 9 years old.

So now I hated my birth mom and had a really patchy relationship with my adoptive mom, and I had no clue how to discern between the two. If my birth mom didn’t love me and left me, certainly this new mom would do the same. I exiled myself to my room, rarely conversing with my family because I didn’t know how to feel about them. I was different than my siblings. They were all a product of my biological dad and adoptive mom, so they fit into the family. Me? I was an anomaly. The feelings of hatred, sorrow, and confusion compounded year after year. No one would tell me anything about my past, and so I filled in the blanks the best I could, but it was never enough. I still felt so alone.

This is only a snippet of my story, but there is something important to be learned from it. Adoption is not something to sweep under the rug, to shut away in a safe and throw away the combination. My parents never spoke of my adoption, so I assumed that they were ashamed of me and how I was added to the family. Not only that, but I never once heard something positive about my birth mother. I was a part of her, and with every negative thing I heard, I shouldered it. If she was awful, then so was I. This could have been quelled by a simple conversation about how even though she made bad choices, there was good in her, just like there is good in everyone. My parents could have told me that adoption made me special, not unwanted.

So I carry this lesson with me now as I tuck my son in to bed and tell him about his adoption story. I tell him how loved he is. How strong and brave his birth mom is. I hold him close and tell him that he is and always will be wanted.

Me and my son Harley.

Me and my son Harley.

P to the S : This story in no way reflects my current relationship with my adoptive mom. Many years, many therapists, and a lot of love has mended what was once torn.

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Kenna Shumway

Wife. Adoptive mom. Writer. Photographer. Endometriosis survivor, infertility warrior & adoption advocate. Rock star on weekends. Currently calls Ohio home with her pharmacist husband and their ginger son. Read more from her on her blog.


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