Not bad for a fat girl


Happy Birthday Cousin

bdaycupcakecardIt’s my cousin’s birthday.

I don’t hear from her anymore.

She had a baby three years ago. I made her a quilt. A really pretty one. It was bright and modern and fun. It was meant to be used, not stored somewhere so it doesn’t get dirty.

I mailed it to her.

I hadn’t seen her in years.

I hadn’t known she was pregnant.

Still, she’s my cousin.

Our mothers are sisters. They don’t get along very well. Our mothers are not our birth mothers. She was adopted from South America when she was three years old. I was adopted from the hospital where I was born and taken home when I was three days old.

She’s several years younger then me.

I loved her right away.

She lived several states away and we rarely saw each other growing up.

She had some hard times.

Some really hard times.

Nobody likes to talk about it.

Her mother won’t talk about her.

Her mother moved back to her home state.

My cousin lives where she was raised.

I don’t know if she got the baby quilt.

I texted. I Facebook messaged. I tried.

I hope she got it. I hope she uses it. I hope her little girl likes it.

I hope someday she’ll talk to me again.

I hope she has a good birthday.


Daily Prompt: Happy Birthmother’s Day

If you could dedicate a holiday to a more distant relative, who would it be — and why?

In the United States, and possibly in other countries too, there is something of an obsession with genealogy. People spend hours in dusty old libraries and pay for online services designed to help them piece together the stories of their past. A scrap of information about Great Grandmother Edna or a shred of detail about long-lost cousin Ernesto is a treasure to these personal history hunters. People take a great deal of pride in announcing that they can trace their roots to 1834 or 1793 or even further back in time. There is satisfaction in knowing where one comes from.

Question-mark-2-300x200We imagine that we share some traits with these long ago people, traits that may go beyond eye color and hair color. We would like to think that we’re brave and clever and independent, so we look for stories of our ancestors and hope to find some that embody these desirable character traits. Maybe they were just regular, hardworking people. That’s okay too. Few people can look down upon someone who had a good work ethic. Even people who find rogues and renegades in their family history take a certain amount of pride in that knowledge; it sets them apart from ordinary people somehow to have a long gone relative who was on the wrong side of the law. All of these people and personality types make up the patchwork of our personal history, and it’s natural for a person to want to know as much about it as possible, in order to get a sense of his history and a sense of his place in the world.

For adoptees, however, the story is different. Depending on an adoptee’s age, he or she may know nothing, or virtually nothing, about the circumstances of his or her own birth, let alone any type of family history that goes before that moment. While my neighbor beams with pride about his knowledge of his ancestors dating back to 1603, I know absolutely nothing about mine before the minute of my birth. I can trace my roots to exactly the date of my birth in 1966 and not a day before.

“It’s for the best.”

“You don’t need to know.”

“Why are you so ungrateful?”

“You’ll only get hurt.”

“What if the circumstances were awful?”

“That chapter has closed.”

“It’s not your business.”

“It would only hurt your parents.”

“Why open old wounds?”

These are things adoptees hear when they talk about wanting to know more about their own personal histories. Not even the stories of generations past, mind you, but the story of how they came to be on this Earth and who the mother and father that conceived them were. The drive to know where you come from is not selfish, it is human. We admire it in everyone but adoptees. Adoptees, especially older adoptees, are supposed to be happy that they were placed in (hopefully) good homes and not thrown away in dumpsters or aborted. Ok, thank you, I’m grateful. The fact that I’ve had a wonderful life does not negate the need to know from where I came.

Think about not knowing if your ancestry is German or Irish or French. Think about not knowing whether you come from a family of artists or musicians or auto mechanics. Think about not knowing if heart disease or cancer or diabetes runs in your family. Think about never seeing anyone to whom you bear any physical resemblance until you actually give birth to your own child. Now think about people telling your that it’s wrong to want to have answers to some of those questions. It’s not wrong. It’s not selfish. It’s normal and we have to stop shaming everyone involved in adoption.

Granted, adoption has come a long way since the 1960’s when I was adopted, but not always for the better. Every now and then I hear stories of birth relatives who come out of the woodwork and want to raise children who don’t even know them. Children who have been with their adoptive families for years. These stories make my blood run cold. Talk about selfish. These are the exceptions, though. Most domestic adoptions in the modern era provide information for families and adoptees as they age, whether they know their birth parents or not. I don’t know about international adoptions, though. I think those run the gamut from full disclosure to little information at all, but I can’t be sure. I do know one young lady who was abandoned in Chile when she was a toddler and found her way to Maryland at the age of three. She will never know anything of her birth circumstances or the situation that caused her mother to give her up. “It’s for the best.”

I propose that we allow adult adoptees to know about the circumstances surrounding their own births and surrenders. Yes, some of us were conceived as a result of rape. Yes, many of us were just plain unwanted. Yes, many (most) of us were conceived out of wedlock. So what? We can’t help that. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t entitled to know even the most basic scraps about our existence. Why do people assume that we’re stalkers bent on ruining our birthmother’s lives? We’re not. We’re ordinary people, and most of our birthmothers are too.

If we were to have a day to honor a distant relative, I would honor birthmothers. It seems strange to think of the person who carried you and delivered you as a distant relative, but for most adoptees that’s who she is, if we consider her to be a relative at all. She doesn’t get to celebrate mother’s day, unless she has other children that she raised, but she’s not supposed to think about us. People tell her the things they tell us.

“It’s for the best.”

“You don’t need to know.”

“Why are you so ungrateful?”

“You’ll only get hurt.”

“What if the circumstances were awful?”

“That chapter has closed.”

“It’s not your business.”

“It would only hurt your family.”

“Why open old wounds?”

She has a right to know what happened to us. She has a right to know whether she made the right decision. In most cases, she probably did. She has a right to know how we turned out. Did we marry? Have children of our own? Those children are related to her too. Let’s stop marginalizing people and allow us to make connections with one another. We are not looking to replace our adoptive families, we’re just looking to piece together our own stories.


Behind the Curtain

“Ignore the man behind the curtain!” The Great and Powerful Oz bellowed as smoke and flames shot into the air around his enormous translucent head.  This command struck sheer terror into my heart. wizard-of-oz-1Not Dorothy, though. She marched right over to that curtain and yanked it back, exposing the knobs and levers and fraud of a polished showman. She was far braver than I am.

Sometimes I worry that if I ask too many questions I’ll expose something ugly and raw that I would rather not know. I don’t agree with, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” as national policy, but on a purely personal level I have used it more times than I would like to admit.  I’m not proud of this cowardice, but I do own it.

I was raised in a family that kept secrets. As far as I know, I was the biggest secret of all. Nobody was supposed to know that I was adopted, least of all me. I might be scarred. I might be ruined. Or, worst of all, I might turn out like my birth mother, who was obviously incompetent or worse. She must have been, or she wouldn’t have found herself in a position to give up her baby.  Me.

It took so many years and so much preparation to finally gain the courage to peek behind that curtain and ask, in so many words, “was I adopted?” It’s an easy question, really. Basically a yes or no would do. What I got in response was, “Would it matter?”wizard

Yes. It matters. It matters that my entire personal history has been a lie. It matters that somewhere out in the world there are people with whom I share a genetic tie that, in spite of the lies and omissions of truth that began the day I was born, cannot be denied. Until my own child was born I had never laid eyes on anyone who was related to me by birth. I had never before seen myself in anyone else, and it was a strange experience indeed.

So, yes, it matters. I wish you had come out from behind that curtain years ago. I wish you would have trusted me with the truth of my existence. I would have loved you still.