In the adoption community, we hear so much about the adoption triad. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, the adoption triad refers to the connection between birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptee. It is beautifully illustrated in this image from http://www.birthmotherministries.org
In the mind of many, this may be the end all be all when speaking of the effects of adoption. However, I want to speak a little about what it’s like beyond the triad, as the child of an adoptee.
My father was adopted in 1952, during the “baby scoop era” when most adoptions were not the result of choice, but rather presented as the only option to young and/or single women who became pregnant. During this time, adoptions were almost exclusively closed adoptions. As a result, my father knew nothing about his birth parents or the circumstances surrounding his birth.
I learned my dad was adopted when I was around 9 or 10 years old, and I was so surprised by the announcement that I actually told him he was lying. He, of course, then had my grandmother tell me that he was in fact adopted. I might have told her she was lying too; I don’t recall. Looking back I can’t help but wonder what that must have felt like to her: this woman who couldn’t have children of her own and, along with my grandfather, had adopted three children and raised them well. But that’s a thought for another day.
Oddly enough, by the time I found out my dad was adopted I had already announced to my parents that I wanted to adopt and they shouldn’t expect biological grandchildren from me. I’m not fully aware of what led me to that decision when I was around 5 or 6 years old, but it’s interesting how things work out. As it would happen, I found out as an adult that it would be very difficult for me to ever get pregnant, and virtually impossible without medical intervention. Again, that’s a story for another day.
When I found out my dad was adopted, I remember almost instantly saying “you mean I have another set of grandparents?! They owe me a lot of Christmas and birthday gifts!” As I aged though, the childish and superficial feelings left and I came to feel the effects of being the child of an adoptee. I found myself consumed by the thought of what his birth parents might be like. Were they kind? Did he look like them? Did I look like them? Where were they now?
In many ways, I had the same thoughts an adoptee would have. I loved my dad’s parents. Truly, you could ask anyone who has ever known me and they would tell you that my grandparents had a bigger impact of my life than my parents in many ways. I had a closer relationship with either of them than I ever did with my own mother. I loved them, wholly and truly. But that love didn’t mean I wasn’t curious about this almost mythical set of grandparents I had out there… somewhere…
That curiosity has continued as I’ve gotten older. It wasn’t long into my adulthood that I came to the stark realization that I only knew half of my medical history. My sister and I brought up the idea of our dad looking up his birth records in hopes of finding any medical history that might exist (though sadly, given the era in which he was adopted there was no guarantee he’d find out more than a first name for either parent if he did look up his records). He refused. His response was always that he got the two most perfect parents he could have ever had, so why would he want to look up the parents who didn’t want him. It’s especially sad to think about him making this statement and knowing that being adopted in 1952 meant that his mother may have never had the choice to raise him, so his adoption didn’t necessarily even mean he wasn’t wanted.
The realities of being the daughter of an adoptee really ripped me apart when my dad died. My sister and I loved each other but we were not especially close most of our lives. Yet, after our dad died, we were suddenly each other’s only link to him. She and my nephew were the only people I would ever have as a biological link to him. It didn’t matter that I knew all of my mom’s family. Suddenly the connection to my dad was merely a thread.
I haven’t completely let go of the possibility of looking up his birth records. Now that he’s deceased it’s actually much easier to do because his consent isn’t needed. I haven’t done it yet though. Maybe it’s fear of finding nothing. Maybe it’s fear of finding out names and then finding out they are already deceased too. But the questions still run through my head: Do I look like them? Do I have aunts and uncles out there? What about cousins? Would they want to know me?
I’m not part of the adoption triad (at least, not until we adopt), and that is important to note. But I am connected to it. Adoption is still a part of who I am.