Talking about Adoption in Public Spaces

My journey into the public realm of adoption discourse began with two life-changing interactions: I found and reunited with my birth mother during the time frame that I was getting to know my husband’s adult adopted son. I was in my thirties.

Reuniting with birth family meant I learned for the first time about the beginning of my life, that missing piece that had prevented my story from being whole. I heard my mother say she had not wanted to relinquish me, that she was given no other option. I heard her say she had not understood that the name she gave me would ever be changed. I wanted to understand what she’d gone through during her pregnancy and my birth, so I sought information about adoption in the late 1960s and I discovered Ann Fessler’s book The Girls Who Went Away. I learned that I was a product of a historical period in the U.S. called the Baby Scoop Era, so I sought information on what that meant. I wanted to understand how I had lost my original name, and I discovered that I’d had another birth certificate when I was born. For more than thirty years of my life, I had not known that I originally had a different birth certificate than the only one I’d ever seen.

Hearing my new stepson’s story meant I learned for the first time that my experience of being adopted was not an anomaly. I first heard his story from my husband’s point of view, so I heard that he had been adopted from Korea in the mid-1970s; that he was estimated to be four years old though his actual birth date was unknown; that he understood no English when he arrived in the U.S.; that he preferred sleeping on the floor rather than in a bed; that when he first saw a TV he inched over to it and held his fingers out to touch. This story was far different from the one I’d been told about myself. Continue reading “Talking about Adoption in Public Spaces”

Five Years and Too Much Silence

JMToday I’m thinking about my stepson, who five years ago on this day took his own life. If you were to ask me why he did it, I would want to blurt out, “Because he was adopted.” But I don’t know for sure whether or not he had an underlying mental illness that contributed to his state of mind. I don’t know if he had a genetic predisposition toward depression, or even dangerous behavior. I don’t know at all what he might have endured during his first four years of life in Korea or whether these early years altered his mind irrevocably, regardless of his adoption experience.

I don’t know the answer to why he did it. Still, I suspect adoption played a role in the hopelessness he felt about his life.

I call him my stepson, though the term doesn’t quite fit comfortably. I had no role in raising him. He was in his mid-twenties when we met, and he was only five years younger than me. The word “stepson” is the easiest way to explain that he is the son of my husband. But, it also reflects the position my husband’s son assigned to me in his life. He called and sent me cards on Mother’s Day. He asked me for motherly advice. He questioned me about his father, in the hopes of understanding him better. He wanted me to explain him to his dad.

I became a bridge of sorts, I suppose, because of also being adopted. I understood why he felt like he couldn’t ever fit in anywhere, why he was drifting through his life. At the time though, all I knew and all I had to share with him was my own experience. I was not part of any adoptee community. I did not have a single adoptee friend. During the time he was still alive, I reunited with my birth parents, but I did so in a vacuum of sorts, without much external support. I had no where to direct him for help because I didn’t have anywhere to go myself. I was not good at asking for help. He was worse. Continue reading “Five Years and Too Much Silence”