In Grade One, I received an assignment which required completing the following sentence: “I was most surprised …” I filled in the blanks by writing, “when my parents told me I was adopted.”
Although I classified it as a surprise, I can’t recall ever not knowing that I was adopted. While we never discussed it much as a family, this fact about my birth was never kept a secret from me.
However, my parents made a point of never telling anyone outside of our immediate family that I was adopted. In fact, I don’t think there are too many people who would even know this about me. My brother, James, was not adopted, but my parents never treated us any differently. I can remember many occasions in which people would say to my parents that I looked so much like my dad. The response from my parents would always be something like, “Thank you” or “He sure does.” But there was never a secret wink or nod from them during these encounters. I think that at the heart of it, my parents adopted me as a nine-week-old baby, told me that I was adopted as soon as I was old enough to understand, and then, for the rest of my life, I was totally and wholly theirs without the need for any type of public disclaimer or asterisk.
I have always recoiled when hearing adults introduce a child as their adopted son or daughter. This is especially true when birth children are included in the mix. “This is our daughter ___. And this is our adopted daughter ___.” If you’ve adopted someone into your family, they are now your son or daughter. Why is it necessary to clarify to the world how they’re different or separate from your other children? I suppose that if it is more obvious physically, then people will likely know that a child is adopted and might ask questions, but my discomfort lies not in whether people could/should know if a child is adopted (it doesn’t need to be kept a secret by any means) but rather with how an adopted child is generally viewed, treated and named by their new family unit.
I acknowledge that I’m a white person who was adopted as a baby into a white family. It is likely that I would view the adoption process quite differently if I was an indigenous child who had been removed from her family of origin (or even community), had joined a family through an international adoption process, or was welcomed into a home as an older child.
I know a number of other adoptees who grew up with a deep longing to know more about their birth family. I did not grow up with this desire. Except for when after-school specials about adoption would come on the TV (I could never watch those), I never much thought about my origins. That is, until I turned 34.
At 34, I became a father to my first son. K’s birth was terrifying; there were serious complications and an emergency C-section was required to keep him alive. But then the chaos ended, and I got to hold him close to my chest and to kiss his beautiful face. At that moment I realized K was the first blood relative I had ever met. He came from me.
In the days that followed, I started to think a lot about my adoption. I didn’t feel any sense of loss or pain about not knowing my birth family. My mind wasn’t focused on my needs at all. What I reflected on, and hadn’t thought of before, is how emotional it must have been for my birth mother to carry me inside of her for nine months, to go through the intense and painful process of childbirth, and then to give me up for adoption. Even if surrendering me was the best decision for her, and done without any sense of loss or regret over the years, she must occasionally wonder about me and how my life has turned out. I don’t see how you can go through pregnancy and childbirth without the experiences having a lasting impact on your life.
Without knowing whether my birth mother wanted any contact with me or not, I decided to reach out to let her know I was alive and well and to say thank you for giving me life. I connected with the appropriate government ministry in Nova Scotia and received some documentation about my birth. As I read through the material, I was completely taken aback by the story that unfolded. Although I didn’t think much about my adoption growing up, I realized then that I’d carefully constructed a personal narrative in my mind that had explained it all neatly. Now I was faced with a real person’s story with factual information and a family history. I also understood that once I reached out, I would not be able to control what, if anything, might happen next or how this could impact my life and those closest to me.
The documentation from the government included instructions on how to write to my birth mother through the ministry’s social worker without giving out any of my personal information, such as my new name and address. A month or two later, I received a second letter from the ministry to see if I needed any help writing the letter to my birth mother. After another few months, I received a third letter asking me if I wanted my file to remain active.
K turned nine a few months ago. He has a brother, B, who just turned six. I’m doing my best to raise them to be kind, compassionate and brave.
I still haven’t written to my birth mother.