Thursday, October 15, 2020

My Story: Before I was Adopted

Content Warning: birth, birth trauma, separation, infertility, brief mentions of sexual assault.

It was the early spring of 1985 when a 13 year old girl stepped off an airplane. Seven months pregnant, she had arrived to what was now her new home. Her sister lived here, in Tennessee. And she had flown well over 1,000 miles to her sister the moment her mother discovered she was pregnant. It is hard to imagine the thoughts that must have gone through her sister's mind, 14 years her senior, as she greeted her at the gate. The young teen carried with her only two maternity outfits and a few sample size toiletries. She had a story to tell, and her big sister would be the first to hear about it.

I was part of this story. But it would take 25 years for me to hear it. This is the story of where I came from, and of how I got here. On this earth. I have written and re-written, published and un-published, this story multiple times. I was not finished with the blog post I wanted to publish today. I thought about what I could write instead. Searching through my blog, I found this narrative. I had forgotten that I unpublished it yet again some years ago. I struggled to tell this story because I had only ever heard it through the eyes of other people.

After we reunited, my first mothermother told me that she attempted to hide that she was pregnant with me. She attended school each day wearing a men's large winter goal to conceal her growing form. It took nearly seven months, but her guidance counselor finally took notice. Question after question, my mother couldn't answer. The counselor called her mother, my grandmother, to come retrieve her. Shortly thereafter, she was sent away on that airplane.

When I think back about all of the times I attempted to share this story, I feel an immense compassion for my younger self. At times, I felt challenged to decide which parts of this story were mine to share. At other times, when I was advocating for legislative change, I was met with the criticism of legislators. Some claimed that adoptees will just use their access to information to embarrass their families. No one wants to fulfill a stereotype.

There was another story that ran parallel to this one before the two stories would converge.

At the same time, and for the nine years prior, a young couple prayed fervently for a child. They tried for nearly a decade to conceive. Knowing very little about adoption at the time, the couple heeded the advice of their church family to pursue adoption. They found a nearby faith-based adoption agency and applied.

This couple, my eventual adoptive parents, never minded telling their part of the story. Being able to adopt a child had been one of the best moments of their lives. They only ever knew their part of the story. From their perspective, it was not much different than the stories told by many adoptive families at that time.

While they were praying, my first mother was enrolled at a school for pregnant teenagers. She was also signed up for counseling at a religious adoption agency at the behest of her big sister's pastor's wife. At counselling, she learned different concepts than the life skills taught at her unique high school. Her adoption counselor talked to her about adoption. She asked her to think about what it would be like to create an adoption plan. Computer print-outs were slid across a table for her review. They contained early versions of what we now know to be "adoptive parent profiles." What might it be like for this librarian or this engineer to parent her baby along with their well-adjusted son as a big brother?

At this point in telling the story, another memory creeps over my shoulders as to why this has not been an easy story to share. I recall being a newly minted social worker going on job interviews. Some potential employers spent hours on my blog, scouring for all of the right opinions on adoption. At least one mentioned that they had done so, outright. My concern in the social services sector, even as one of its professionals, is that it is too taboo to describe situations when agencies do wrong. I fear not being believed, because this part of the story has not always been met with belief. It is hard for people to accept that professionals within an institution that people commonly associate with positivity could do something wrong.

Unfortunately, the story has not yet reached the worst of it. My first mother went into labor, one week after her 14th birthday, at 40 weeks and five days gestation. It was in that moment, she later described to me, that she could not longer keep me safe from the outside world. To her recollection, she was a mere bystander in the delivery room. A sheet was drawn in front of her face. She pushed for what seemed like forever. When she was certain she heard my cries she also heard a prompt to tell her to count backwards from ten. I was delivered with forceps, according to records. She woke up, childless, and no longer on the maternity unit.

That part of the story has always made me hesitant to share it. It feels violent and violating. I see the pain that it causes people when I relay my birth. I am capable of carrying the story without falling apart. But I am not always sure that others are. I consider it my burden to bear. And no, I do not regret knowing.