Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Unexpected Paths

I wasn't altogether correct when I said that I first began to tackle my adoptee status in 2008.

When I lived in Berkeley in the mid-90's, I was in graduate school and lived in a gorgeous, huge house in the Elmwood district. One of my many roommates was also an adoptee, was actively searching, and was more into the adoption scene. She was from California and had actually found her first parents round about that time. She started attending local support group meetings of PACER (Post-Adoption Center for Education and Research) in a nearby town and one week invited me to join her. She also passed along book suggestions (e.g., Betty Jean Lifton), which I devoured.

I recall going to peer support groups in 1995 and 1996, and in November 1996 being invited to the PACER info table outside Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue, long ago, before National Adoption Awareness Month became the monster it is today. I felt like a fraud, though, because I was so young; I had basically no information about my first family; and I didn't feel qualified to advise anyone about anything other than good books to read (unrelated to adoption). My one evening on the job I felt outside the loop. It was a dark, rainy, Berkeley night; I was being heckled by homeless people and the public at large. I kept wondering if I belonged, like a ghost. I tried not to say much.

When I attended the support groups, I also felt odd. I had nothing to contribute other than the story my aparents had been fed about my first parents (the fairytale bullshit narrative that went, "Your 'biological' parents were in love, and engaged, and beautiful people who had sex but shouldn't have. They broke up and decided you would be better off with married parents. So here you are!") and how I felt that my adoption marked me as different, and how I felt vaguely unsettled and self-hating my entire life. I was mousy. Did I have anything to contribute? Did my story matter?

There was an "older" man (older than I was, but younger than I am now, curiously enough) at the meetings, also a Missouri adoptee, who volunteered to help me search with my scraps of information. Scrap, more like it, of my first mother's misspelled last name. We didn't get far with it in those pre-Internet days.

In 1996, I didn't have the courage to ask my aparents to get their permission slips notarized, so that I could apply for the non-identifying information I craved. It was expensive for a graduate student, and emotionally expensive to have to ask for dispensation. The people I met in the support group, however, were extremely encouraging, and told me that I deserved my information whenever I chose to go for it. They were right.

The following January, I moved to London, went through a dramatic, traumatic breakup and had other fish to fry. Adoption was the least of my problems, although it was there in the background if I think about it.

Other than talking to my friend and ex-roommate about her experiences, I let adoption lie fallow for several years, picking it up again in 2000 when I was working at Oracle as a Technical Editor during the tech bubble, avoiding my dissertation, and feeling very successful and grounded (at least for me, at least for that moment). I was 31, married to a German guy (I had hoped for an Englishman, but German was close-ish), with a job that paid well! I had a beautiful apartment! I lived in the Bay Area! I was a person, not a piece of shit. Umm, well. We all know how that played out for me. Not so great.

I was devastated, so devastated that I didn't even want to think very much or very hard about being adopted for another eight years, even when I had to scream at the doctors to take me seriously about my son's health issues. In nursing school, and especially after my surgery, I became angry and invested again. I had friends around me, standing with me. I was not alone.

I was at last old enough to know what I wanted for myself, to stand up and ask for it, and to have made friends on whom I could truly rely.

For me, talking about adoption openly and feeling all the attendant emotions can definitely be exhausting. I haven't taken a break from it in over five years. I have no reason to back away from who I am now. I am committed to bringing about change through advocacy and in providing personal support to adoptees at AAAFC. In 2013 I am going to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Atlanta, no excuses! I doubt that I will have my original birth certificate in my lifetime, but I can certainly do my best to try to help all of us get ours.

And in terms of unexpected paths, I am contemplating a huge personal change, one that originally had made me feel rigid and angry and resistant. I have lived where I am, in the Bay Area, for 20 years. It feels like home. Any thought of change was threatening, especially because I fought for so long to feel at home anywhere. Even in my own skin.

Then I visited a new place that I thought I would hate. I was primed to hate it. I knew I would hate it. It would be awful. I wasn't ready for change; it would be disastrous. It was actually fun! Change can be energizing. If I move, I can begin again with my new name. I can contemplate tweaking my career. I can explore.

We will see.

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