Tuesday, January 22, 2013

6 Ways I've Come to Appreciate Biology Post-Reunion

My hair.
When it comes to reunion, some might argue that it is not a biological connection that the adoptee is seeking but rather a rekindling of the brief social relationship that began early in life.  As a reunited adoptee, I have never been able to categorize my reunion and reasoning for reuniting so neatly into two clearly separate parts.  At the moment of my birth, my connection to my original mother was comprised of biological, social, and legal ties.  Adoption cut off the social and legal ties with my family.  Adoption practices at the time attempted to cut the biological ties simply by limiting what I was permitted to know about my biological family.  However, adoption did not change my DNA or the fact that I am and always will be the biological relative of my first family.

When I  reunited, I sought to re-establish my social connection with my biological roots.  With my planned incorporation of my original surnames into my legal name, I am seeking to regain some of the legal connection as well.  For this post, I thought of ways that the rekindling of my social connection with my biological family has made a difference in my everyday life.

I've stopped trying to beat my hair into submission

In my teen years, I could never just get a trim when I visited the salon.  Every haircut was different.  I donned both long and short styles.  Twice, I went from near-waist-length hair to cutting off an entire ponytail to donate, embracing a new do that sat well above my chin.  I also never dyed it the same color twice.  Every time my roots started to grow out, I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent my look.  I started dying my hair when I was about twelve years old and by age 20 couldn't tell you what my natural hair color is.

I have battled with my hair for years trying to get it to look the way that I wanted it to.  I had a rule that if I couldn't blow my hair dry and flat iron it, I would wear it up.  When my hair air dried, It would always flip out in the opposite direction that it was cut to fall.  It would never look the way the haircut was styled without some serious intervention from the flat iron and some hairspray.

It never occurred to me until reunion that my hair might actually be naturally wavy and might look nice if I cut and styled it using my hair's natural waves.  Most of the young women in my maternal family wear their hair long, and wavy.  There is nothing like seeing a feature that you have be mirrored by someone else that makes you think, "wow, that's beautiful."

I haven't dyed my hair in four years.  My original mother went gray at a young age; I'm going to enjoy the natural brown hair color I share with several relatives for as long as I can.  I cut my hair in long layers that compliment the waves in my hair when it air dries.

I warily integrate my family medical history

I spent a long time ignoring what relevance biology may have in my life.  Like it or not, I was not dealt very good cards health speaking.  My biological father died from brain cancer when I was eighteen.  Almost every ancestor for three generations in my paternal family has had cancer.  Both cancer and benign tumors run in my paternal biological family.  My aunt was not at all surprised to hear that I had a benign tumor at the age of 21.  I am also genetically predisposed to diabetes on both sides of my biological families.

I did not want this to be my family medical history.  This is what it is and I need to acknowledge that.  I need to wisely use this information with my doctors to make health care decisions.

I have become the "rescuer" and "preserver" of heirlooms

When my husband suggested that he didn't want his grandfather's antique pocket watch any longer and was considering giving it to our four-year-old to play with, I all but hit the floor in response.  I took the intricately engraved bass piece in my hand and found the spring to pop it open.  Inside was a photograph of my husband's great-grandfather as a child.  It bears a striking resemblance to my oldest son.  It is now hidden away with all of my other treasures: old photographs of family members, my grandmother's hairdresser's charm, my grandfather's medal for decades of factory service, my paternal family's china, and my maternal great-grandmother's adoption papers and original birth certificate.

I have created some "heirlooms" myself.  Before I was reunited or even married, I walked into a jewelry store and the most beautiful ring and matching pendent caught my eye.  It was a citrine stone enveloped in a circle of tiny diamonds.  I immediately thought, "this is what I want to wear at my wedding and pass on to future generations."

My husband's disconnect from the pocket watch heirloom is the result of knowing his grandfather but never having a strong connection with him personally.  I keep this in mind with the traditions that I start and the heirlooms of mine that I save to be passed down.  These are not just objects.  These are gifts to my descendants, generations of which I will not be around to meet but helped bring into the world.  These items are my way of saying, "this is who I was," "please remember me," and "please know I loved you all before you were even born."

I reminisce about memories in new ways

Some of my fondest memories are ones I like to turn over and over again through new eyes.

When I was in high school, my friends would eagerly gather at my house to have their hair done before a school social or party.  We'd sit around with curlers in our hair and paint our nails, do horrific amounts of plucking of eyebrows, and convince ourselves that this overpriced mascara really did add volume to our eyelashes.  I'd set up a chair and style everyone's hair into some outrageous up-do.

Can you imagine how excited I was to learn that my grandmother was a hairstylist and had her own salon?  I look back at these memories and wonder how much of my skill at styling my friend's hair was influenced by skills I inherited from her.

I can talk about heredity without having to say "I'm adopted" to make sense

When I was pregnant with my first son, I cannot tell you how many times people asked me these questions:

How much did you weigh when you were born?
I don't know, I'm adopted.

Were you an easy delivery for your mom?
I don't know, I'm adopted.

Did your mom get stretch marks?  They're hereditary.
1.  That's an odd question and 2.  I don't know, I'm adopted.

People asked me "are your parents...?" questions throughout my life in relation to anything from my height, my sensitive skin, my ever-expanding list of things I am allergic to, my skills and interests, and my career path.  I suppose asking someone where they got a skill or interest can be categorized as "casual conversation" or an "icebreaker."

You probably could file casual questions about heredity as, "not too big of a deal."  Unless you're adopted, of course.  The casual icebreaker of, "wow, you're tall, are your parents tall" (aka "who did you inherit your height from?") all of a sudden gets real deep when you respond, "I don't know, I'm adopted."  Subsequently curiosity wins over and a barrage of rather personal questions ensues.  "Do you want to know your birth mother?"  "Are you glad she gave you up?"  "Do you think about her all the time?"  "Why did she give you up?"

Post-reunion, I was able to answer questions for my second pregnancy like this:

How much did you weigh when you were born?
8lbs 6oz.  Exactly one pound lighter than my firstborn.

Were you an easy delivery for your mom?
Nope.

Did your mom get stretch marks?  They're hereditary.
1.  That's an odd question and 2.  I don't know, I'm not going to ask my mom about her stretch marks.

I don't feel guilty talking about heredity

I have read in more than one research article that one common characteristic of closed adoption is that it can cause the adoptive parents to fear or be intimidated by the unknown biological family.  As a result, the adoptee can begin to mirror this fear.  My parents spoke very highly of this mysterious woman who very much had a psychological presence in our home.  Despite this, heredity was like the proverbial elephant in the room.  It was hard for me to wonder aloud if something about me was learned from my adoptive parents, inherited it from my biological parents, or if was something somehow unique to me.  This is because a huge chunk of information was missing from the equation.

Post-reunion, now we know the answer to many of those questions.  Believe it or not, knowing definitively what I inherited from my biological family has not made my adoptive family feel threatened.  Rather, they learned what things were inherent to me and received confirmation that they had done a good job nurturing those things.  Eliminating the secrets created by the nature of closed adoption and fostering an atmosphere of openness has improved my relationships with both of my families.

These are a few of the ways that I have come to embrace biology post-reunion.  How about you?