My daughters and I have something important in common. We share the experience of joining a family through adoption. When I was adopted in 1956, the topic was not openly discussed. People were just beginning to recognize the importance of birth parents and genetic connections, and, while my parents referred frequently to my adoption, I sensed their discomfort with the subject. Growing up with so many unanswered questions, I never expected to become an adoptive parent myself.
As I became a teenager, my curiosity about my birth parents increased. Physical similarities that my friends shared with their parents, which most took for granted, fascinated me. Over time, my curiosity became a powerful yearning to know about my genetic heritage. When I became an adult, I decided to search for my birth family.
Meeting my birth mother and the family of my birth father, who had passed away, was profoundly satisfying. I liked them, and it was neat to meet someone with that same space between her front teeth. Most importantly, the meeting made me realize that, if my life had been different, I would not be who I am and I would not be connected to the people, including my parents, whom I love so much. I felt grateful for all of my adoptee history.
Still, when I had difficulty getting pregnant, in my mid-30s, I was adamantly opposed to adoption. I wanted to have the kind of genetic ties that I had envied in my friends’ families while I was growing up. And I didn’t want my child to feel the ache that had taken me more than 20 years to resolve.
Still, over time, my mind started to open to the idea. I knew that family ties forged by adoption were as true and deep as those made by biology. Love was not the issue. In the end, I had to relinquish my hoped-for biological connection to my children. I learned that that hope was a minor part of my desire to be a parent. When my first daughter, then 5 months old, was placed in my arms for the first time, I loved her instantly and completely. Over the years that followed, I’ve come to see how fortunate it is that my daughters and I share the adoption experience:
- While my children have their own experiences and will have their own perspective about adoption, they know that I understand how it feels.
- I will not feel threatened if my children become angry at me and say, “You’re not my real mother,” or “I wish you had never adopted me.” I said the same things to my own parents.
- I am comfortable talking about adoption. While I love to explore the subject through books, articles, and other resources, I rely mostly on my own instincts.
Most importantly, just the fact that we have this common experience makes my children feel good. I recently asked my daughters how they felt that I was adopted, too. “Happy,” my 8-year-old said immediately. My 10-year-old thought for a moment and then said, “Connected.”