One of the things adopted people lose through adoption is, most obviously, their family. This is the not-a-happy-ending side of things no one talked about, at least not until recently. As adopted people – or unwanted babies and children, as most of us began life as someone’s shameful problem to solve – we were told to be grateful for being chosen (and not to be sad we weren’t wanted in the first place). They told us we should be happy someone wanted us (read: They paid for a baby, any baby, to join their family; it happened to be me), and that if we didn’t behave we could just as easily be returned. (Would a refund be in order? I wondered. I hoped not.)
We also lose our family health history, and someone to mirror and confirm the origins of our looks, and any genetically-related models of family choreography – gait, lilt, mannerisms, subtle to overt behaviors; not to mention the general well-being of knowing where, and with whom, we fit. Being removed from our original tribe is a very lonely place to be. Most of us are very good people-pleasers (because people we displease can make us disappear). We learn how to be acceptable (don’t be an embarrassment; you’re wearing that? Why can’t you be different? Why can’t you be more like me?); how not to stand-out too much (don’t outshine your adoptive family; don’t tell people you’re adopted; stop asking questions about your “real” family); how not to dissolve too much (you still need to show up and meet expectations we don’t even have for our biological child).
Adopted people, ever-seeking to recognize ourselves in others…specifically, others who hold parts of us in them. I am related to each and every stranger I see. I am not attached to any Other enough to fear being alone, because I have been that alone, as an infant, as a toddler, as a youngster, when no Other came for me. After days and months of crying for that Other, something in me finally just broke. And that thing was trust in an Other.
Without any organic family connection, adopted people are provided the biggest blank canvas. We can invent and reinvent ourselves from scratch, quite literally from nil, as we like. There’s no baggage of our own (barring the fact that we weren’t actually wanted), we’ve no knowledge of cancers or tumors lurking on some molding doctor’s chart, no history of seizures or adultery or twins. We don’t have to become the fourth generation Chief or a third generation taxidermist. We know nothing and, therefore, can create everything.
Us, the un-kept children, become some of the best people-watchers on the planet. We can spot relatedness in airports, amusement parks, restaurants, parties – any and everywhere – and though it is fun to see related persons and their families, it is for ourselves we hunger to reveal.
Last week, I signed up for a year of Ancestry.com and am having an adventure finding relations well into the last two, and in some cases, three, centuries. Having two sets of parents means there are two-times the lineage. While Ancestry does have a tag you can add for “adopted out of this family” and “adopted into this family”, it does not openly recognize adopted persons nor allow an adoptee to create a dual-tree where both sets of parent-figures’ families are seen. But, there is a bit of a workaround:
After creating a profile for myself, using my adoptive name, I populated my adoptive-family tree as best I could. There are many familiars in that tree. Then, to create the other family, what would be my biological family tree(s), I changed my original profile name to my birth name and have begun filling in those blanks with what little I know.
Ironically, my birth families have information that reaches back to 1711, so far, but none of the names have any significance. Who are they? What would they think of me and how I was erased for 40 years? I found a yearbook photograph of my maternal grandmother, this week. It was the first time I’d seen her. There is a resemblance. I wonder what she would have thought about all this.
I’ll keep turning leaves with the genealogy and see what else comes up. While part of me will always hope that someone will claim me, return me to my “real” family, part of me knows that is not ever going to happen. I’m not a baby, I’m not in need of care. My maternal biological siblings were all raised with each other. I showed up unexpectedly in 2004, their trio well established; they defend each other, they probably snipe at each other, they share things. They have a pecking order. I am not part of them; there will never be “the four of us” because I was something that never happened, because my existence was denied then revealed. I was an Other’s secret.
And I’m supposed to be “happy” being kept dead from those siblings; be grateful I was unknown, unfamiliar to people who might, had I been kept, been closer. I will always be on the fringe, in the margin, I will always be a blank.
Blank canvas. Blank history book. Blanked out of the truth. Blank until 2004. Blank because it’s uncomfortable. Blank because I don’t fit where I should.
Somewhere in Albany, New York, I have two birth certificates. When it’s time, I’d like two death certificates – and none of those lines will be blank.