Adoption: An insider’s view

Adopted boy on red trike

 

I was adopted just after birth

I am a 58 year-old father of three who was adopted just after birth.

The circumstances of my adoption don’t matter, what does matter is that my natural mother’s circumstances didn’t allow her to keep me or to care for me in the way she would have liked to have done.

What I would like to do here is to provide a few brief reflections of one life that began with an adoption, and how the team-effort of navigating that situation can, with care, flexibility and love, have a positive outcome.

Shadow of an adopted family on grassMy childhood

I’m aware that adoption is often a favourite subject in dramas, mostly with negative outcomes, stressful experiences, exploiting lingering resentments, and focusing on tragedy and hurt. Perhaps the opposite would have insufficient dramatic value.

My own experience was rather different to that, and the older I get the more I appreciate my childhood and realise that any pain associated with my adoption, was born largely by my natural mother.

I was arguably very fortunate in being adopted at a week old. My natural mother – not allowed to know any details – had been sent for a walk. She returned to an empty cot as I had departed with my new parents. This seemed tough, but how else could it be done?

My parents were loving and caring

My adoptive parents were loving and caring and having now had the benefit of seeing my mother’s letters to St Andrew’s Children’s Society, the adoption agency, I appreciate what a vital joy and genuine thrill my adopted older sister and myself brought into her and our father’s life. We were taught core values, laid down in gossamer thin layers of daily experience, like any child.

My adoptive parents died quite early

Life was not without stress however, and both my adoptive parents sadly died quite early: my mother when I was 15 and my father 23. There was trauma around then for sure, as there would always be, however looking back something had imprinted on me ‘which way was up’. Something had made a compass that continued to provide a sense of direction. Was this genetic; or was it the demonstration of love that I had received as a child? I now know my natural mother: she is established as my mother in my life, so the answer I lean towards is probably ‘both’. However I sense that either influence might if different, have upset the apple cart.

For that gymnastic feat of fortune I feel genuinely blessed although some have told me it is the tools to make lemons out of lemonade that we should feel gratitude for. I may never know.

Reunited with my birth mother

Fortunate timing in reunion also played a part.

I identified my natural mother in my 20’s but didn’t contact her until my 30’s. My first wife found she had cervical cancer during her pregnancy with our second child in my early 30’s, and that period of considerable trauma included meeting my natural mother and welcoming her back into my life, in hindsight at the point where she was most vital.

The 7th Cavalry

We met when my wife’s health was deteriorating after chemotherapy, and I had my seven-year-old son to care for. She arrived like the 7th Cavalry, helping me to care both for my wife and my son.

Odd looking back how the grief and stress of my wife’s illness was in a strange way the landing pad for the soft re-entry of my mother into my life. My mother and I used to walk and talk together for hours as we tentatively got to know each other, each recognising traits and habits, re-familiarising ourselves with essence of each other, both feeling a frisson of excitement when we touched. We clacked together like magnets when we first met and the intensity of that is difficult to explain to non-adoptees.

No resentment or rancour

On one such walk we passed the house she had been required to stay in when heavily pregnant with me. We hugged outside, and I felt so privileged to be able to tell her that all the fear, all the worry she had felt 35 years ago handing me over, and the fears for her own life’s path, had been unnecessary. Here we were both travelled well, fairly well adjusted, and now together again, with no resentment and no rancour, just steeping in the joy of the reunion. I told her that I never felt as though I had been abandoned by her: I had a loving childhood and had somehow put her aside for when I would really need her. Is this true? Who knows?

‘Blessed journey’

She and her family’s love and support accompanied my son and I through our recovery, becoming my ‘family’. When I met my current wife, married and parented two new children, both now adults, they were my support. Viewing it as a ‘blessed journey’ frankly doesn’t do it justice.

‘You only have one mother’ – I was blessed to have had two

I sometimes joked when people say ‘you only have one mother’, that I was blessed to have had two. All adoptive people do: one who lovingly builds the little spacesuit they arrive in, and leaves with them a set of silent instructions, and ideally another who lovingly guides and shapes their following of those instructions, hopefully but not essentially all the way into independent adulthood.

Every adoption is different I do get that, but to be an adopted person, I now recognise is a special, rather than a negative thing.

Being adopted did make me feel different

During the vulnerability of childhood, being adopted did make you feel different, there’s no escaping that. Apart from my sister, we each knew no other adoptees with whom we could share experiences.

My mother tried, and succeeded in large part, to make ‘different’ into ‘special’, telling us for as long as we could remember that we had been ‘chosen’ and were genuinely loved. I recognise now from her letters that that was genuine in a way I did not appreciate growing up.

adopted father holding his baby's hand in the palm of his handThe birth of my first child

Nonetheless, there always was a sense of being an island: a little bit of land surrounded by sea. Although you knew intellectually that you were connected to the mass of humanity, the link was hidden deep below a sea of circumstances, ones that you had no influence or control over. So the isolation was real.

It was not until I held my own first child in my arms that that I realised for the first time I was looking into the eyes of a blood relative. I became aware that I was not an island, but this baby with its dark eyes was the next link in a chain, a chain of which I was part, a chain that extended back for thousands of years. The birth of the first child for an adopted person is an especially profound experience.

The rewards of adoption exceed expectations

Any parenting journey is challenging and full of unknowns. Adoption perhaps brings some added unknowns and possible complications, but not necessarily in a bad way as fiction might have us believe. It is sophisticated and delicate, yet deals with deep seated emotions, tied to the most powerful of influences – our genes. Embarking upon this journey may require ballast, call for skill in handling undercurrents or emotional weather none of the parties expect, might call for reserves the parties didn’t know they possessed, but like any voyage of discovery, the rewards exceed expectations, and often exceed even the imagination.

This blog post was written recently by someone adopted through St Andrew’s Children’s Society in the 1960s.