I wasn’t too sure how to start my story. I thought I’d begin by describing that moment in childhood when I understood who I was within my own family.
My adoption story is one of kinship care. Unusually, I was adopted by my grandparents. I say “unusually” because while many grandparents, relatives, and family friends will often step into the parental role with children, that kind of arrangement is not typically found in formal adoption. Mine was. In the United States, it is estimated there are 3 million children being raised by kinship caregivers. There are roughly 300,000 children currently living in the same kinds of family arrangements in the United Kingdom.
I was always told that my Mum (Sheila) and Dad (Neil) were my maternal grandparents. They had a good and very forward-thinking social worker who told them to be honest about my true origins. Having met many adoptees over the years, I am very grateful to have been told the truth about that. It seems the biggest pain caused by adoption are the secrets and lies told about our true origins. However well-meaning the concealment was intended.
By adoption, my birth mother (Sandra) became my sister. Confused? I certainly was. My Mum and Dad were my grandparents, and the woman who gave birth to me lived a few miles away.
While I don’t remember exactly when it was, I remember the actual moment so vividly. My “eureka” moment. My Mum and Dad (grandparents) had a front lawn. I was riding around the lawn on my bike. It was a Saturday afternoon. The sun was shining. (If you’ve ever been to England, you know that sunshine is a treat. It is not an “expected norm” when it comes to weather.)
Inside the bungalow where we lived, my Mum and Dad had visitors; my birth mother Sandra, her then husband, Charlie, and their son, Mark.
Round and round and round I went. I kept circling the lawn on the bike. I was talking to myself in my head…
“So, that’s Sandra. And even though she’s my sister, she is actually the one who gave birth to me. She was only fourteen when this happened. Mum and Dad–her parents–had to look after me. She was too young to care for me. And that’s her husband, Charlie. He’s Mark’s dad. Mark is sort of my brother… but he sort of isn’t, because we don’t live together. And I’m being brought up as an only child. Besides, I know that Charlie definitely isn’t my Dad. He’s Mark’s father and Sandra’s husband, so he’s kind of like my brother-in-law.”
Big concepts to grapple with when you’re a kid. It took me a while to work it all out for myself.
Knowing who you are is central to being able to build what you can become. It’s the keystone of a sense of self.