An Interview With An Adoptee: Adoption Is A Part Of My Identity

"Adoption has just always been a part of my life."

Natalie Brenner January 04, 2017
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As I pour the hot coffee into my mug, I am beyond thrilled and excited to have a virtual coffee date with you. As a mama by adoption, I am always questioning if I am doing anything right for my son via adoption. To have a conversation with you, where I ask some intense questions and you answer transparently, is one of my greatest honors.

So here we are, you and I. You are open to sharing your experience as an adoptee and I am all ears. The questions are unending, but I will do my best to ask only the most pressing. Feel free to answer as you feel comfortable: I am a sojourner, here to learn from you.

Taylor, share your story as an overview.

My mom and dad were married fairly young, and knew that beyond anything else they wanted to start a family. They figured, like most, that it would happen just as you hear it always happens. As the years went on and there continued to be loss after loss, my mother came to a point in her OB’s office where she shared with him that maybe adoption was her next step. A week later a nurse in the office called and shared that a young woman was in the office and wanted to make an adoption plan, and that woman was my birth mother! It was an incredibly early match, they developed a very special relationship during the long duration of those 9 months and to this day they remain very close at heart. My mother was allowed in the room when I was born [and] my father was just outside. I was loved from even before I was earth-side and I am profoundly blessed in more ways than I can count, through the gift of adoption.

What did your parents do that you feel made the biggest impact in making you feel secure, confident, and proud of your story? Is there anything else you wish they would have done?

I don’t ever remember the “moment” I found out I was adopted (that seems to be a question I get a lot), because adoption has just always been a part of my life. My birth mother was involved in our lives as much as she could be from states away. She would come to visit when she could and always called on big days of the year; this helped more than I care to admit.

Seeing that my mother and my birth mother always worked together to love me to their fullest is what made me confident in my story. Many times, the quick assumption behind adoption is that I wasn’t loved, that I wasn’t wanted; my family, alongside my birth mother, went out of their way to share how much they truly and deeply loved me – and it was just that, a love story. I felt privileged whenever I was able to share my love story with others, to tell them that I was in fact SO loved that I was given every opportunity in the world.

How can we celebrate our children’s adoptions and our journeys to them while also not constantly placing that as the key of their identity?

Being a white female in a white family, this is something that I don’t feel is as much of a struggle for me as it is or will be for others (including the child that we will adopt ourselves). No one looked at me and just knew I had to be adopted; I shared many features of my family and it was simply never a question. There were times where I felt in my life that too much adoption talk would lead to my mother being reminded that she couldn’t have children biologically, which made me want to snuff out “adoption talk” as much as possible, but even then I knew that was all in my head.

Something that I stress to those who are weary about speaking to me about adoption out of fear of hurting feelings or crossing boundaries is that adoption truly is a part of my identity. It is why I am here, it is why I grew up the way that I did, [and] it is why everything in my life exists. It is easy to be caught up in “adopted” as an identity, but instead my parents made that something to be proud of. Sometimes people affiliate their identity with titles like musician, mother, a dog or cat person, democrat or republican, skinny, extrovert and I identify myself as a lot of things, but adopted is one of them, and I love that.

I encourage parents to make their child identify with many things, and teaching them to be proud of each and everything that makes them “them.” I can’t identify as a mother, a wife, a broncos fan, a morning person or anything else without also identifying as adopted, and my parents did a wonderful job making me extremely proud of that.

Did people ever ask your parents intrusive and sometimes inappropriate questions about you while you were right there, and how did your parents respond or how do you wish they responded?

I always remember my mom telling me a story about how I was brand new, weeks old at the most, and she was walking through the grocery store and people constantly were telling her that she looked AMAZING! She told me, “Instead of getting upset, I went with the punches and allowed them to compliment me!” That seemed to be the theme of our encounters; my family always took them with a certain grace. It is easy to be angered or bothered by intrusive comments, but the truth is that most of them are well meaning.

We were getting our hair done when I was in middle school, and I am fair with blonde hair while my mom is fair but with very dark, dark brown hair. The hairdresser commented asking me if I knew that my hair would eventually darken out like my mothers, and I responded with, “Well I am adopted,” and threw in some 13-year-old girl sass right alongside it.

The woman was very obviously flustered and to make things better she said “Well, what color is your real mom’s hair?” I wanted to explode. That was far and wide my least favorite question, when people would ask about my real family or ask if my brother (also adopted) was my real brother, of course they were! But it was my mom and dad who helped me to understand that to most people, adoption is new; and just like I am confused and curious when I see new things, they just don’t know what to say.

The woman went on to say she was surprised I was adopted because I shared so many features with my mother and to that my mom responded with “Only God, right?” I always admired their calmness and grace when answering people’s intrusive comments. Now that I am an adult myself, I can see that if they had answered any other way they wouldn’t have been bringing the light of the idea of adoption to others like I knew they wanted to.

What is your earliest memory of feeling like you didn’t belong (if at all), and how did your parents handle that situation? Is there anything your parents could have done differently?

When I was in grade school, I went to visit my birth mother in Alaska where she was currently living. I remember taking a ton of photos because my classmates were convinced that all of the ground in Alaska was ice, so naturally I took a ton of photos of the ground. When I get back into town my teacher allowed me to share those photos and in them were photos of my birth mom and I together. My classmates were very obviously confused by who she was and how I had two moms, but one lived in Alaska. The rest of the afternoon I was pounded with questions, because we were all young and it was many of those kids first time even hearing that adoption was in fact “a thing.” My teacher saw this and felt that a Q&A session would be the answer. While she was well meaning, I have still never felt more isolated in my entire life.

She sat me in the front of the class, with all the other children in a circle of desks around me, and let them ask any and all questions they had for me so that in the future they wouldn’t ask me any more. I went home visibly upset that my classmates had asked me so many questions that I had never heard before, or even knew how to answer, and naturally my parents were furious. That night my mom phoned my birth mother and I remember spending forever on the phone with her. My parents and birth mom then let me ask them any questions that I may have had and truly just showered me with love that evening. Seeing them work together like that to comfort me, and parent me in those tough times was more than I could ever ask for from either side. I went to bed that night knowing that beyond all else, beyond all of my classmates’ confusion and harsh interrogation, that I was loved and that while my start may have looked different, that I was no different than them.

What are the three best traits your parents instilled in your upbringing?

Confidence, grace, and uniqueness.

My parents worked relentlessly to sort of “foster” my uniqueness. Adoption is unique, and so to help me not be ashamed of my uniqueness, they surrounded us with others who were unique in their own ways. Being surrounded by so many people with so many different, yet equally beautiful stories, allowed me to feel that my story wasn’t some sort of “deep dark past” but rather a beautiful part of my present and my future.

Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t always the kindest when answering questions about adoption. People who are unfamiliar simply say offensive things because they may not know exactly how to ask, but my parents taught me to approach those questions with a certain grace – and this truly is invaluable to me. Being able to answer people’s intrusive questions in a way that helps them to better understand adoption makes it so that they simply don’t ask those intrusive questions any more! When someone would ask me about my real family, or if I was bought with money/thrown away or anything else imaginable, instead of anger I would help to educate them on the beauty of the situation and more often than not they would apologize for having said what they did and explained that they didn’t mean it in the way it may have came across.

Confidence. I was loud, proud, and adopted! My parents told me how proud they were of me, and what an amazing job I was doing, and how I would change the world someday, more than they ever wanted to… but it meant the world to me. It instilled a confidence that I needed to face the world as an adoptee. Every new doctor I go to, I get asked for family history of this or that, meaning I have to re-explain my adoption. Every new boyfriend I had, I had to explain that I was adopted and that is why I got calls sometimes from someone who I called my birth mother. I had to explain that part of my life often, often enough to absolutely crush someone’s spirits, but because I am confident in who I am and my story, I am able to take those questions head on any time I am faced with them.

Do you ever remember being told you were adopted or was it a known part of your story from the get go? How often did you talk about it as a family? Were the conversations ever forced and awkward, or just natural?

I truly don’t. There was never a day where I was sat down and told the story of how I got to my family. No one ever had to break the news to me or any other imaginable situation because adoption was made as normal in my life as any other situation was in any other child’s life. From the very beginning, my birth mother was a part of our family; she was the woman who brought me to my family and I knew this. Because of our openness, it was always a natural conversation (and truly, it wasn’t that heavy of a conversation in my day-to-day life anyway).

When I was 13 years old, I remember being nervous to tell my parents that I wanted to find my biological father. I felt that in some way, I would hurt them. It took me months of pondering my words before I came to them and to my surprise their only response was that they would do anything I needed them to do in order to help.

I cannot stress enough over how beautiful it was to see my parents so involved in my life in that way; they never harbored jealousy [and] they never desired to keep me from my biological family.

How did your family interact with / talk about / treat your biological family?

They were and are family. There was always a well-known and healthy boundary between my biological family and my (adoptive) parents and that really helped to facilitate the relationship and make it what it is today! My biological parents were always extremely supportive of my parents and their decisions for me in regards to my life and everyone was simply just there to help achieve the common goal. Both my parents and my biological parents were always there for communication, whether it was my parents allowing me the time to talk to my biological parents or my biological family taking the time to talk to me. Everyone was always open to questions, stories or anything else that I found that I needed along the way.

What was the hardest part/season of life growing up as an adoptee? How did your parents help you navigate through that time?

There were definitely “seasons” of contact. This was always the hardest on me. My biological parents were busy finding themselves, cleaning up their lives and making families; often times that resulted in seasons where we would go without contact, even after reaching out to them.

When I was younger (younger than 12) I would sometimes take this very personally, I would see it as they had forgotten about me, or wanted to rid of me and that was a little hard for my young brain to understand. During those times I feel that my family simply loved on me a little bit more, there was more “I don’t understand what you are going through, but I want to if you will let me,” and a lot of hugs and reassurance and sure enough, each time the season came to an end it was as if things never parted in the first place!

Have you ever felt that your [adoptive] family wasn’t actually your family? As you became an adult and if you nurtured your biological relationships, did you lose any need for your [adoptive] family?

Not once. I was shocked to find that this is a fairly common fear with adoptive parents: that in someway they will become less needed, that they will be replaced, or their child won’t feel as if they belong. I can assure you that I always knew I was home. There were times where I would stop and wonder “what life could’ve been like,” but the truth is that no matter how I looked at it I knew that my life wouldn’t be anywhere near as beautiful if it had been any other way! Even having the extremely close relationships that I do with my biological parents and many of my biological siblings, I never have seen them as a form of replacement for what I have. My parents were God sent to be mine, and I am theirs and I know how lucky I am to have it that way.

If we are being open and honest, during some of those typical harder times of my raising, I did wonder what life could look like if I had been adopted by someone else, but those thoughts were always short lived and only ever out of frustration with whatever it was that my parents were annoying me with at that time. Teenage years aren’t easy whether you’re adopted or not!!

Lastly: what is something you hope all [adoptive] parents would hear, listen to, and know? Something that your parents modeled that all adoptive parents would do well to model?

Openness, leaps of faith, venturing into the unknown, being able to make them feel wanted.

All of it is so overwhelming and thinking endlessly about how you will accomplish all of this simultaneously will only lead you to insanity. As a mother of two beautiful biological children, I make a million mistakes, I lay awake at night wondering if they love me, if I am enough, what I could do differently and how to make them feel wanted – just as I will with our adopted children.

My favorite quote is “Not flesh of my flesh, or bone of my bone, but heart of my heart and soul of my soul.” I hope that this is one that you can look at and seek beauty within. Whether your child is adopted, biological, or anything else you can fathom – they are yours. God designed this child for you just as he designed a biological child for me; we are no different. Each child has individual needs, adoption does not automatically make you in for a harder ride, and every child will endure bumps and bruises regardless of their DNA.

There will never be words beautiful enough to thank my parents for casting aside their fears, and allowing me to have that relationship with my biological family. There was never an ounce of jealousy, there was never a moment where they thought they needed to strip it all away, and that relationship with both of family and my biological parents helped to mold me into the person I am today.

I am blessed and I am so proud to be adopted. God took something and made it beautiful for me. He adopted me and made my life gracious. I know with every breath and every day, that He has plans for me because of the beautiful story He has created. You are destined and you are set apart.  He chose you to be the mother and you to be the father of this child, and that was always His plan for you, always.

If you liked this interview, be sure to check out fellow adoptee Eryn’s story, too!

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Natalie Brenner

Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty and believes grief is the avenue to wholeness. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her email community.


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