Thursday, December 16, 2010

Exploring how Adoption Helped Define me

I am thinking about the post I made yesterday and about BJ Lifton's quote that I incorporated.  She wrote about an adopted person's two selves.  The self one is the adopted self and the other self is what might have been if they had not been adopted.  Some adoptees wonder what it would have been like to have been raised by their original family.  They may do so based on scant information or misinformation.  Reunion presents a challenge of piecing together what you thought you knew and what you know now.  Then you must decide how that fits into the story of your life.  Do I have these two selves; if so, what do they look like?

There are some things I am sure would be the same about me had I not been adopted.  I think no matter where I was raised I would have been a passionate, people-loving person.  I like to think I would always believe in hard work and do what I believe is right.  I would still rely on the help and comfort of those around me through hard times.  I would still always want to learn something more.  I would still be tall, stubborn, and "too outspoken to be ladylike" (a description bestowed upon me by a high school teacher).

My Adopted Self?
  • I just watched part of a Bruce Springsteen concert on TV with my husband and my husband said "you know he's from Jersey."  I said "well yeah!"
  • I roll my eyes every time I see a commercial for "Jersey Shore" (MTV show).
  • I know how to make a cheese steak...the right way.
  • I can identify lots of little seashore creatures.
  • I was an athlete and sports was a favorite past time of mine.
  • I was raised an only child.
  • I had never known a biological relative or seen someone who looked like me.
  • I had no family medical history.
  • I did not know my ancestry.
  • I was raised Presbyterian.
  • I can't fish, at all.  Have never been hunting either.
  • Never had a garden.  Don't have a green thumb.
My Biologically Raised Self?
  • I suppose I would puff up with pride about another state, that's far away, and know all the inside jokes there.
  • I'd probably have gone hunting and fishing regularly.
  • I'd probably be Baptist.
  • I would have known my ancestry.
  • I would have known biological relatives and see people who look like me regularly.
  • I would have had a family medical history.
  • I would been raised an older sister to brothers and have all those sibling dynamics.
  • I'd probably know how to cook the local food like nobodies business.
  • I would have probably grown some of my own produce and raised some farm animals.
Why do I identify with cheese steaks (yummmm), being an only child, and the beach (etc.)?  Because I was adopted into a family with no other children, and lived in an area where we love to eat certain things and enjoy certain past times.  Adoption defines part of me, not because I wear a neon sign that says "adopted" around town with me (except at the Adoptee Rights Demonstration--I rocked out a huge neon "adopted" sign there) but because adoption put me in an environment where I was brought up to embrace and value certain things.  I urge people not to pathologize an adoptee for identifying with being adopted--it shaped a huge part of who we are in the world.

Sometimes it is interesting to think of the "would have beens."  And in fumbling together my above "lists," I am not trying to portray or insinuate that one "is" vs. "could have been" is better than the other (except I don't think that not having family medical history is ever really a good thing).  And I purposefully kept the lists on a more superficial-ish level because these are things I'm still figuring out. 

There are some things I will never figure out and that's OK.

Saying that adoptedness is a part of my identity is, to me, a lot like saying being a woman is part of my identity.  I view the world through the eyes of a woman and the rest of the world views me as a woman.  I know the stereotypes and I know some of the difficulties women face.  I also celebrate my foremothers who have done so much for my rights and my equality.  Likewise, I see the world around me through the eyes of someone who is adopted, who knows what it is like to be a part of two families, and who has, at a time, lived without things people may take for granted (e.g. ancestral information).  I celebrate those who have gone before me to make things better for adoptees and who continue to do so today. 

And as I've said in a previous post, adoption has a lot to do with identity.  If it didn't, there never would have been seen a "need" to amend and seal our names and to issue brand a new birth document as if the original does not exist.  By the time of I was a year old, I had gone through three different first and last names.  Adoption has everything to do with identity.

Being a reunited adoptee can change things.  I am a daughter to two mothers and one father.  I know people who look like me, I have a family medical history, I know my ancestry, I still love cheese steaks, I can still coax a fiddler crab out of its hiding place to say hello, I am embracing my role as a sister, and someday, I might actually learn how to fish and enjoy it!

I did not have the opportunity for openness when my adoption took place.  It was not yet common place in the 1980's to have an open adoption or a contact and information sharing arrangement.  So I am learning this and figuring these things out and how each piece of my identity fits together now, at the age of 25.  Like I said, it is an interesting journey to say the least.  Adoption is just as much a part of my identity as so other many things.

"Those adoptees already in Reunion need help in integrating their two selves—the one who grew up adopted and the alternate one who might have been" --BJ Lifton


Peach said...

Love your post. I so relate.
Even though adoptees may not "know" our biological relatives or parents, we are still very much daughters/sons of them. So really, you are the daughter of two mothers and two fathers...even though separated. Don't you think? It has taken me 20 yrs of "reunion" to let this sink in to my identity and personhood. It feels so fragmented but true.

giftofthemoment said...

Thanks for this post. Today it really struck a chord for me - both on a personal level of who I am (though I am not an adoptee) and on the level of how to be better mom.

Mom~Mommy~Mama said...

This makes so much sense! Thank you!

mybirthnameisallison said...

Thank you Amanda... this post is great.
My n-sister, in a heated argument once told me, "ADOPTION DEFINES YOU!!"
This really bothered her, yet, I have never lived a moment without my adoptedness.

I've been wondering ever since, if it does.
I've decided it does, to some extent.

Thanks for putting words to what I've been wondering for so long.