In A Room Full of Strangers Who All Look Like Me

An adoptee expresses her feelings after meeting her birth family after 32 years.

Sonia Billadeau January 22, 2014
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The holidays haven’t been the same since I met my birth family.

…they’re better.

My sister, Katie, has a Christmas party every year. And even though it’s been twelve years since I first met her and my other four sisters and brother, I still get a kick out of being in a roomful of people who resemble me.

Being adopted into a family whom I look nothing like has always made me feel as though I was put together in one factory, while the rest of the family was assembled in another. I was made from entirely different materials, yet I was expected to work the way they worked. I felt like someone had jury-rigged me, but I was supposed to perform as if I were part of the original whole.

It’s difficult to explain to someone who isn’t adopted what it’s like to go through your entire life having never met a single person who looks like you. No one ever says that you’ve got “your father’s eyes” or “your mother’s hair.” No one ever tells your adoptive parents that you’re a “chip off the old block.” No one ever looks at you while you’re standing next to your adoptive mother and says, “The apple sure didn’t fall far from the tree.”

I always felt more like an orange among my family of apples. And no matter how many characteristics I may share with my adoptive family, I’ll never be an apple, and therefore, can never fairly nor accurately be compared to them.

Being born a twin gave me a better than average chance that I would know someone who looked exactly like me. But my twin sister and I are fraternal twins and are as different as two siblings can be. I am fair; she is dark. My hair is straight; hers is wavy. I have friends who actually resemble me more than my twin sister does.

My Italian adoptive parents chose my twin, hoping that her Mediterranean looks would help them to “pass her off” as their own biological child. The illusion worked most of the time. I don’t know why it mattered so much to them that strangers should never suspect that my sister was adopted, but it did.

Unlike my sister, no one could ever mistake me for my adoptive parents’ biological child. I couldn’t look more un-Italian. And when I was placed into my large, Italian adopted family a year later, I must have looked like an albino puppy in a litter of Black Labradors. Maybe that’s why it was especially gratifying for me to meet my biological family. For the first time, I felt like I “fit in” at a family gathering. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had finally met some folks from my country – people for whom I had been subconsciously searching for without really knowing why.

There was an instant connection between my birth family and me when we first met, even though we were total strangers. I had lived thirty-two years of my life without them, yet they looked uncannily familiar to me. I didn’t feel as though I was meeting them for the first time, but rather, I felt like we were resuming a meeting that had been interrupted long ago.

The shape of my sister Katie’s eyes were so much like my own, I felt as if I should be the one looking through them.

My sister Marian’s mannerisms were so much like mine that, if I didn’t know she was my sister, I could have picked her out of a crowd of a thousand people.

My brother Michael looks more like my twin sister than I do, even though he has a different father.

I couldn’t stop staring at my sister Edie when I first met her, because there was an indescribable blending of her features that made me feel as if we were both sculpted from the very same stone. I learned from what side of the family I inherited my left handedness when my sisters Marian and Julie both reached for their forks.

Being so much alike, it seems somehow unnatural that my siblings and I spent so many years apart. If it weren’t for my son, who was diagnosed with a heart condition when he was 14 years old, I would have never even known they existed.

Finding my birth family didn’t make me love my adoptive family less, in the same way that giving birth to my second child didn’t diminish my love for my first. A different and separate love emerged from somewhere inside me – a love I didn’t even know I possessed until I retrieved it.

It’s an adoptee’s right to know his or her birth family. Because a person is adopted shouldn’t mean that they can’t ever hear the words, “You look just like your mother,” and know with certainty that they are true.

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Sonia Billadeau


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