As an adoptee, I am always seeking out resources. It was a wonderful day when I stumbled across Who Am I Really? A podcast hosted by Damon Davis. Damon, an adoptee, adoptive father, published author, and podcast host, is a wonderful member of the adoption community. His podcast highlights adoptee voices and their stories of reunion with their biological family. When I found Who Am I Really? I binged every single episode. Recently, I was able to connect with Damon, and I was interviewed for his podcast. I wrote about my first podcast experience here: Adoption Now.

Introduce yourself & tell us how you are connected to adoption.

I am connected to adoption in multiple ways – I am an adopted person who was received into my family at three months old. I am also an adoptive parent through the international kinship adoption of my niece and nephew from my wife’s side of the family. My charitable giving is focused on the Gift of Adoption Fund, an organization that prioritizes grant funding to support adoptions for children in vulnerable situations. 

I have had a lot of good fortune in my life including successful adoption reunions with my biological mother and father, separately. When sharing my adoption and reunion journey with other adoptees I started to hear a wide array of experiences different from my own—great adoptions and terrible reunions, awful adoptions and amazing reunions, and myriad variations of adoptee journeys. Learning about the universe of adoptee lived experiences inspired me to launch the “Who Am I Really?” podcast where adopted people share their stories of adoption and their attempts to reconnect with their birth family.

Finally, I work with the Gift of Adoption fund, a children’s charity that supports families to adopt children in vulnerable situations such as kids with medical needs, those in danger of aging out of foster care, preventing children from entering foster care, and helping sibling sets be adopted together. I am a volunteer fundraiser and an adoptee advocate within the organization.

Tell me about when and how you found out you were adopted? What was adoption like in your home growing up?

I’ve always known I was adopted so being adopted has always been part of my identity. As adoptee journeys go, mine was pretty fortunate. I grew up in a middle-class home in a homogenous family with two African American parents, like me. In fact, my adopted father Willie was darker skinned, my adopted mother Veronica was lighter skinned, and my skin tone is in the middle of theirs. All that to say if you didn’t know I was adopted I could have passed for their natural son very easily. 

While we didn’t discuss adoption very often, when it did come up my mom was always open and supportive. If I asked her questions, she answered with what she knew from my adoption file. As I got older she always told me that if I wanted to search for my birth mother she would help me. 

Did you have any adopted siblings? Any siblings that were biological to your parents? What was the dynamic like?

I was raised as an only child in adoption which had benefits and challenges. There was never anyone to play with, however I learned to entertain myself. To this day I’m relatively comfortable being alone, despite being a gregarious outgoing person who thrives off of interpersonal interactions. 

Did you have any other connections to adoption growing up? 

When I was growing up I had the sense there were adoptees around me, but I wasn’t positive. Not many people talked about it when we were kids. But I would see Black and Asian kids with white parents, so I assumed they were adopted. 

I spoke openly about my adoption growing up. It was a fact about me that surprised my best friend Andre. He told me after we became friends that I was the first adoptee he had met in a long time who spoke openly about being adopted. Andre’s last experience with another child openly sharing they were adopted led to that kid being bullied by the others — it taught Andre to keep his mouth shut about being adopted too. My openness helped us bond over adoption. 

When did you “come out of the fog”? What was that like?

Coming out of the fog was a moving series of events for me. My adoptive mother was showing concerning signs of mental illness, while her physical health was maintained. My friend Kelly, seeing my anguish over my adopted mother’s mental departure, suggested it might be time to find my birth mother. But I wasn’t quite interested yet. 

Later, my wife Michele, her father, and I visited one of my father-in-laws relatives in Baltimore. This elderly woman welcomed us into her home, pulled out photos and newspaper clippings about the family’s history, and retold the stories of their family’s growth and maturity like a griot in a village recounting the culture’s history. It struck me that if any other person laid out the same artifacts in the same way, they could never recount the stories the way she had. It made me wonder about the elderly griot in my birth family whom, if I didn’t find my birth family, without sharing their family stories with me. 

Finally, the birth of my son, Seth, was a moment like no other. We had been through several rounds of highly emotional assisted-pregnancy failures when Seth was conceived naturally.  One day as I hovered over my son marveling at the infant Michele and I created, it hit me that he was the first blood relative I had ever known. I was further struck by the fact that while he was a branch on my family tree, I was a branch on someone else’s family tree – but I had no idea who those people were. 

How much did you know about your biological family and did you ever desire to know more?

The only things I knew about my biological family were that my birth mother was a librarian, my birth father was a police officer, and I was born in Baltimore, MD. I assumed I was conceived there; but in reunion, I learned only one of those three “facts” was correct. 

When did you decide to search and how did it go?

When Seth was born in 2008, I knew I had to search for my birth family. I reached out to Baltimore City Social Services to get more information. They interviewed me about my desire to search, asked me to complete a form to allow the search to move forward, and called for the redacted version of my records to be shared with me. It was only a few months before my birth mother was located living in Laurel, MD, only a few miles from me in Silver Spring. 

Who did you connect to first in your biological family? Where & when did you meet? How did it feel?

When my birth mother was located, the kind social worker mailed her my introductory letter. I had taken a full afternoon at work to craft my introductory missive, making sure to share my curiosity about her, my empathy for what she may have gone through, and an open invitation to reconnect whenever she felt ready. I was sure to include a picture of Michele and me on our wedding day and a photo of young Seth. 

When my social worker shared my birth mother, Ann’s, phone number we talked for hours that night. I felt an instant connection to her as her calm demeanor and gratitude for me finding her poured through the phone into my heart. 

In a crazy coincidence, Ann was working only four blocks away from me in Washington, D.C. Incredibly, the night we spoke for the first time,was the evening before Ann’s next birthday. Since she had shared where she worked, I decided the next day I would surprise her at her office for our reunion on her birthday. 

The moment I saw her for the first time was one I’ll never forget. I had entered her building and cleared security who put me on an elevator down to her office. They had also called to let her know I was coming. Unbeknownst to me she had gotten up from her desk to retrieve me from the lobby while I was simultaneously on my way downstairs to her office. When the elevator door opened on her floor, a woman with my face was staring at me with her mouth open in disbelief. The man who had sent her a loving introductory letter with pictures of himself and his family was standing before her. 

I stepped out of the elevator and the tears flowed down my face as I reached out to hug her and wish her a happy birthday! 

When did you decide to start a podcast? What was that like?

As I told my story of adoption and reunion to others I heard a mixture of reactions. Non-adoptees thought my story sounded incredible, suggesting I write a book, or that my journey should be a movie. 

But occasionally I would encounter an adoptee who was happy for me and my story, but who lamented that their story was very different from mine. Adoptees told me stories of terrible adoptions unlike mine, they did not think their reunion would have a happy ending, or they had concerns about launching an adoption reunion search at all. 

Adoptees told me they feared searching for their birth family because they didn’t want to upset their adoptive family. They expressed loyalty to their adoptive parents not wanting to search for their birth family until their adoptive parents were deceased to prevent upsetting them. Some adoptees told me they would never have an outcome like mine because the adoption records were sealed in the state where they were born, or they were afraid of what they would find through a DNA test. 

In these moments of connection with other adoptees I realized how drastically different adoption journeys can be from one person to the next. I had been lucky, in adoption and adoption reunion, but not everyone would have my positive outcomes along their adoption journey. I decided that I wanted to help dispel the commonly held myths that adoptions were always good experiences, children had been rescued from abhorrent situations, and adoption reunions have happy endings. 

It struck me that when adoptees come to terms with the fact that they were born in one family, but raised by another, questions of identity and a longing for answers overcomes many of us.  One of the questions adoptees ask ourselves as we come out of the fog is, “Who Am I Really?”

What has been the most rewarding part of hosting Who am I really?

I set out to create a safe space where adopted people can open up with their truth about their adoption experience. The goal was to let lived experiences be expressed honestly without the constraint of a brief interaction with a stranger, and with the empathy that comes from speaking with another adopted person. The most rewarding part of hosting the show is being trusted by the adoptee community to help them share their adoption journey as their authentic self. Guests tell me that speaking with me was the first time they’ve ever shared their entire story. I hear how cathartic it was to open up about the journey and how we explored places and made connections in their story they had never contemplated before. My guests have told me that their spouses or family members have listened to their episode and now clearly understand their experience. The show is hard work, and every story takes me and my guest on their emotional journey, but it is my biggest passion and a labor of love. 

If you had to pick a favorite episode of your podcast, which one and why?

It’s an easy question to ask, but an impossible one to answer. I’ve spoken to over 200 adoptees and they’ve all taught me something new about how humans nurture or mistreat one another. I’ve learned about internal fortitude and mental health challenges. Guests tell stories of unexpected heartbreak and renewed hope. People have told me about their deepest fears coming true, and their least expected fantasy being realized. Every episode is so vastly different and each teaches me something new about the adoptee experience.

How do you plan to continue to stay involved in the adoption community? 

I will continue to produce the podcast for as long as there is appetite and I have the energy. I have aspirations to write another book about the adoption experience, but that will take time to create. I hope to do more speaking engagements, participate in conferences, volunteer with Gift of Adoption, and support the adoptee community in any way I can. 

If you could leave one piece of advice or encouragement for adoptive parents from an adoptee, what would it be?

To the adoptive parents, be honest. Be honest with yourself about why you opted to adopt and heal from that reason. Be honest about how you feel when you contemplate your adoptee’s possible attempt at reunion. Then work on being supportive before the moment comes when your child shares their search with you. If you hide those feelings and you’re not honest with yourself they will eventually be revealed if not through your words, then by your actions. So you may as well be honest about them so that your family can move forward together. 

If you could leave one piece of advice or encouragement from an adoptee, for an expectant parent considering adoption, what would it be?

For the expectant parents considering adoption, it is okay to not be ok. The decision you face is life-changing for you and your child. Once separated the child will never leave your heart. One day when the child is older they may want to know who you are and why they were relinquished for adoption. Seek help and support for the adoption decision and try your best to make yourself available to your child when they find you. They did not ask to be born, they did not request their adoption transaction, so the least you can do is be honest and open about their origin story when they return one day. We know it must have been a traumatic experience to conceive a child that you did not raise, but healing from that time in your life is possible and many times it comes with the forgiveness that your child can grant you in reunion. 

If you could leave any advice or encouragement for adoptees in reunion or considering reunion, what would you say?

Take your time. Acting with irrational speed without consideration for how you are feeling or how your birth and adoptive families might feel could lead to pain in unexpected places. The reunion journey cannot make up the years you and your birth family have spent apart. If the adoption reunion does happen, people still need time to process their emotions, and that includes you. 

If you could leave one piece or encouragement from an adoptee, for an adoptee, what would it be?

You are not defined by your adoption story. Adoption happened to you, it is part of your story, but it does not define who you are. Our lives are a collection of the experiences we have, and the ways we grow and learn from them. Acknowledge the challenges in your past, but try not to dwell on them. Healing is important for growth so I encourage all adoptees to seek the healing they need to thrive. 

It has been an honor to connect with Damon, interview him, and be interviewed by him. If you haven’t ever listened to Who am I really? I would encourage you to check it out. Damon also published a book that tells his adoption story in more detail. I appreciate everything Damon is doing for our adoption community. He has worked so hard to bring other adoptee voices to light. Adoptee’s are the center of our adoption triad, and hearing from them can make future adoptions so much better.  

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