How did your parents tell you that you were adopted growing up?
My parents always did an excellent job of normalizing adoption and my identity as an adoptee. I was adopted when I was two days old from an agency and almost three years later my parents were very transparent about how they were adopting my sister from the same place. My sister Hannah and I do not remember Mom and Dad ever sitting us down and revealing this part of our lives; we just remember always knowing. I also remember going to our adoption agency’s family events, so I knew other adoptees and families from a very young age. Those things definitely impacted me in a very positive manner, even though I still struggled due to a lack of biological connection because of my closed adoption.
Was your adoption closed?
My adoption was closed. I don’t remember knowing anything about my biological family except that they loved me tremendously. My parents always did a good job of sharing that I was so loved by both families and it definitely stuck with me. When I was 18, I got my adoption records half-way unsealed, which meant that any identifying information was redacted. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I unsealed my records fully. The agency I was placed through had an outrageous admin fee to get the record unsealed through them, so I found a loophole and got a court order to unseal for $10. It was easy to obtain with just my birth certificate—which I had to first go obtain—and a government-issued ID. I waited about 30 minutes for a judge to review my case and the written statement of why I was pursuing my biological roots. Within no time, I had a signed order to unseal my records and the agency had to release my file. Once I had that file, my mom helped me search social media, Google, and people finder sites to track down my birth mother and siblings. The coolest part of all of it is that the number for my grandparents that was put on file in 1987 was still their phone number in 2010 when I reconnected with them. It was pretty neat that the whole time they were only an hour and a half away from me and I had always been in their hearts.
Did you struggle with anything as an adoptee?
I have seen how my closed adoption inadvertently contributed to behavioral issues from about 5th grade through high school. I really struggled with my identity, which then fed into a lack of self-worth. I rebelled for a good decade, but I didn’t actually know that I was struggling with trauma from being adopted until I was an adult processing all of my junk in therapy. I learned that while I viewed my adoption and adoption in general through my rosy lenses, I had still experienced a loss of a mother and she experienced losing me. Not to mention that all of my biological family grieved me as well. The first time that I heard that adoption is trauma, I really struggled with seeing it as anything less than sunshine and roses. As an adoptee, I was constantly reminded of how loving adoption is and how I was so lucky to have been chosen by my parents. While both are 100% true, adoption is also challenging, founded upon a loss, and leaves grief in its wake. While as a baby I was too young to consciously remember being separated from my birth mom, it still affected me greatly. I was still subconsciously aware that I left a part of my identity behind. So that is one huge struggle that I even to this day am working through. Another would be that attachment issues have developed due to that separation. I am always fearing that love and friendship are conditional. That at the first moment of challenges or disagreement, the relationship with so-and-so is destined to ruin. I am having to intentionally work through where these feelings come from and why I have the attachment style that I do. Being committed to growth and healing is extremely important to me, so even though I still struggle, I am always working on myself.
What is your relationship like with your birth mom now?
Heavy, complex, and challenging. When I first met Cheryl back in 2010 she was incarcerated. I quickly found out after unsealing my records that she had been in and out of jail since I was a baby. She’s an addict who has spent all of her adult life on the streets, so you can imagine what her life skills are. When I first found this news out, I was super disappointed. A part of me still is today, but I have had a decade to process life with Cheryl in it. When I met her for the first time, I went up to the county jail and saw her through the glass. She cried a lot, said she had always regretted placing me for adoption, and that I was so beautiful. To be honest, even ten years later, I cannot tell you how I felt about that day. I had hyped it up for so many years thinking, “My birth parents are probably super successful, or amazing parents, or maybe they’re even famous.” (Can I get an “amen” from the adoptee peanut gallery? We’ve all thought it.) I never once in my life thought, “My birth parents are probably struggling and hurting.” But there I was, realizing that my birth mother never healed from placing me for adoption and whatever other hurts contributed to her life of struggle. Throughout the last decade, I have gone from being super present in her life (as much as one can be in that type of situation), to angry and shutting her out completely, to now accepting that this is who Cheryl is and I can either love her for the things that matter to me, or I can regret showing her love and grace when she’s dead. It took me realizing that one of these days, I will get a call that she has overdosed or that they have found her dead on the streets to sit down and think about how I feel about her. I love her not only because she gave me life but also because she put her own feelings aside and did the right thing for me by placing me for adoption. I have seen the evidence of adoption being my best outcome so clearly this past decade and I am grateful. I also know that she is broken, as we all can be at some point in our lives, and I forgive her for the choices she has made. I don’t condone her lifestyle, but I do love her. Today, I talk to her on the phone on occasion and might see her once a year if she comes back home to my grandparent’s house. It’s an estranged relationship, but it’s healthy that way.
Why is having a relationship with your birth mom important to you?
Despite everything I said above, she is my birth mom. I had so many questions growing up. I wondered who I looked like, why I love to sing, why I had a reddish tint to my hair, why I was placed for adoption, and where my birth mom was. When I met her, I was able to get so many answers and that was necessary to find closure and acceptance in my identity. Not only that, but it’s important to me that she knows how grateful I am and that even though it hurts, she truly did make the right choice for me. I am also a birth mother, so an additional reason my relationship with Cheryl is important to me is simply that I understand her heartache, her sacrifice, and the depth of her love for me. She may not be who I was expecting or hoping for, but she will always be my birth mom and I choose to know her.
What advice would you give to adoptive parents about raising an adoptee?
Always be transparent from a very young age about your child’s adoption story. It really is traumatic if you bring it up in a way that isn’t promoting a normal environment or situation. Adoptees need to feel secure in their stories, not like a pariah. Another thing would be to have an open adoption. Be flexible. I realize how scary it is to be so vulnerable with someone, but the reality is that your child is abundantly loved by more than one family. It’s an amazing thing that will benefit your child if you just let yourself be open to the beauty that can be an open adoption. With healthy boundaries and respect, open adoption works. I often wonder what life could have been like for both me and my birth mom had my adoption been open. I would think we’d both have experienced healing in the very least from knowing one another. Lastly, never stop doing research. Adopted children are likely to have behavioral issues, mental health struggles, or other things that challenge them. It’s important to be well-equipped in raising an adoptee. Reach out to your agency and find out what trainings you could take, what they offer in their post-adoption that can be beneficial to you, and listen to stories from adoptees and birth mothers. I have known several parents who have adopted children and they had some extremely difficult behavioral issues arise in raising some of their adoptees, I urged them to reach out to their agency to get help because caseworkers are there for these kinds of things. Let them be an asset to you so that you can continue to put your child first and make sure they are getting the help and resources they need to thrive.
Is kinship better for an adoptee or domestic adoption?
I mentioned earlier that I am not only an adoptee but also a birth mother. I was raised in a closed adoption, but my children were placed in an open adoption. One is super open as my son is a kinship adoption and my daughter is through an agency’s domestic program. I am sure there are statistics out there that can show which is more beneficial for a child but, from my experience, I find that this is all situational. Both kinship and domestic adoptions can be equally beneficial for an adopted child as long as they have a connection to their biological roots. I think that is the most effective ingredient to adoptee wellbeing.
How did you handle any disappointment from discovering your biological roots?
If I were to have known how much disappointment and how my expectations were from the beginning, I would’ve filmed this whole experience. I mean, I could write a book on the hot mess I experienced in discovering my biological roots. I felt disappointed in meeting my birth mother as you read above and I am still uncovering disappointment on my birth father’s side. I have been dealt a rough hand in who my biological parents are, but while those things obviously leave a stain, I would never take the disappointments back because they gave me my grandparents, uncle, cousins, sisters, and nieces. But not only has it led me to family members who I am so blessed by but also it has left me with closure and answers. It was worth all of the hard-to-digest information I learned, the uncomfortable moments, and the hurt I have for my birth parents. My biggest piece of advice to any adoptee looking to discover their biological roots is to ask yourself, “No matter what I find (and I mean no matter what because life kept giving me wild stuff) will it still be worth it?” Figure out why you are looking in the first place and make sure you have support if you decide it’s worth it. Therapy is also extremely beneficial for unpacking everything you find out, so look into that as well.